Merger of Qiaonan and Griffiths Primary schools: Singapore schools lost to time

SINGAPORE - Many old schools in Singapore have closed down over the years as the estates they are in mature, and enrolments decline. Some were merged, others leave only memories. 

Next year, Qiaonan Primary will be one of six schools to be merged into three. It will combine with Griffiths Primary to form Angsana Primary.

Three blog posts by Ms Fiona Seah on these old schools have become her best-read entries to date, a sign of the nostalgia and emotional ties former students have for their now-defunct schools.

They may not be brand-name schools, but some have a rich history dating back all the way to the 19th century. The opening, merging and closing of the schools reflect Singapore's urban development, the shifting of its population, and also its education policies.

Here's a look back at some of them:

1. Pearl's Hill School (1881 - 2001)

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Pearl's Hill School was one of the first English primary schools established by the British colonial government. It started in 1881 as the Singapore Chinese Branch School, and was re-named Cross Street School in 1885 after the street it was on.

In 1914, it was re-located to Pearl's Hill and re-named Pearl's Hill School. It remained there, beside the Police Quarters, till the 1970s.

In 1972, as the Outram area was developed, the school was moved to a new 12-storey building on Chin Swee Road. That was the tallest school building built in Singapore, housing both Pearl’s Hill School and Sekolah Melayu Sepoy Lines, according to the National Library Board's eresources.

In 1995, it merged with Pearl's Park Primary School, but as student numbers fell, the school was finally closed in 2001. Pearl's Park Primary was itself merged from Pearl Bank Primary School and Park Road Primary School. 

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The Pearl's Hill School building is now the Hotel Re!.

2. Tuan Mong School (1906 - 1994)

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The school was started in 1906 as a primary school by Teochew clan leaders at Hill Street. It later moved to Tank Road in 1918.

The Ngee Ann Kongsi took over its management in 1953 and two years later, secondary levels were added, and it became Tuan Mong High School.

In 1960, a new school building on Tank Road made the news for combining modern facilities like a two-way public address system with a traditional Chinese-style tiled roof.

The school was known for producing famous calligraphers.

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As more people moved away from the city centre and went to schools in HDB estates, enrolment dwindled. The primary school was shut in 1983 and the secondary school was closed in 1994. The school building, now called the Teochew Building, still stands at Tank Road.

3. Schools on Selegie Road: Stamford Girls' School, Waterloo School and Selegie Primary School

The arts centres on Selegie Road were once the classrooms and playgrounds of young children who attended Stamford Girls' School, Waterloo School and Selegie Integrated Primary School. They were all merged into the current Stamford Primary School.

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Before Pearl's Hill School's high-rise was built, the 10-storey Selegie Integrated School was believed to be the tallest school in Asia. Then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Chin Chye officiated at the school's opening in 1963. It had an enrolment of 4,000, according to a Straits Times report.

Stamford Girls' School started in 1951, and went through many re-namings. From 1955 to 1983, Stamford and Waterloo School operated side by side. They were merged in 1984, and re-named Stamford Primary School. In 1987, it absorbed Selegie Primary School.

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The Stamford Girls' School building is now the Stamford Arts Centre. The building pre-dates the school. It was building by Japanese in the 1920s as the Japanese National School Building, and housed the Gan Eng Seng School between 1946 to 1951.

4. Sang Nila Utama Secondary School (1961 - 1988)

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The school was the first Malay-language secondary school opened in Singapore, in response to new policies for education in all language streams at the time. 

The school was officially opened in 1961 by then Minister of Education Yong Nyuk Lin, with an enrolment rate of 447 students and 18 teachers. In his speech, the minister said it was a historic moment for Malay education. The school badge featured a lion on a red and white striped background.

Click here for a clip from the National Archives of Singapore about the school.

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In 1988, it was closed partly because of a change in policy, which saw the phasing out of non-English medium schools, and also because of a decline in intake. The Gurkha contingent is now housed there.

5. Ten schools that merged into Gan Eng Seng Primary School 

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In the beginning, there was Keng Seng School, which was started in 1939 from the donations of villagers near Bukit Merah. The Chinese-language school was built on land donated by pig farmers. A school for the children of farmers, labourers and hawkers, it operated with bare facilities at first. 

Pigs used to enter the school premises and there was often dung around the school, a principal from the 1950s recalled. Even in the early 1960s, there was no water or electricity, and the roof leaked. Donations of $30,000 were collected for a new school building in 1962.

As the number of pupils enrolling in Chinese schools dwindled, it merged with Strathmore Primary School and Friendly Hill Primary School in 1980. The new school kept the name of Keng Seng, but used Friendly Hill's school badge and Strathmore's school song.

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In 2002, Keng Seng merged with Alexandra Hill (which opened in 1963), Bukit Ho Swee and Henderson primary schools, and they were re-named Gan Eng Seng Primary School.

Alexandra Hill and Bukit Ho Swee primary schools had seen mergers before this. 

Alexandra Hill had absorbed students from Bukit Merah Primary School, which was closed in 1997, according to Bukit Merah Primary alumnus Chester Ong. Bukit Merah Primary School was formed in 1986 from an amalgamation of three schools: Bukit Merah North School, Bukit Merah South School and Redhill School.

Bukit Ho Swee Primary School was also formed from a merger in 1986, of Bukit Ho Swee East School and Bukit Ho Swee West School.

chuimin@sph.com.sg

Sources: fionaseah.com, Straits Times Archive, eresources.nlb.gov.sg, Tuan Mong High School Facebook page, Stamford Primary School website, Gan Eng Seng Primary School website, National Archives of Singapore, Chinese Schools - A Lasting Legacy