Students' e-books retell S'pore history

The students and teachers of Ngee Ann Secondary School who were involved in creating the iBooks describing three veterans' experiences during the 1964 racial riots, Konfrontasi from 1963 to 1966, and the collapse of Hotel New World in 1986.
The students and teachers of Ngee Ann Secondary School who were involved in creating the iBooks describing three veterans' experiences during the 1964 racial riots, Konfrontasi from 1963 to 1966, and the collapse of Hotel New World in 1986.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

15 from Ngee Ann Secondary School compile stories from veterans into three iBooks

Rescuers gathered around a woman pinned down by the debris of the Hotel New World, trying to get her out.

Colonel (Retired) Chng Teow Hua, who was then in charge of a team rescuing victims of the hotel collapse in 1986, had to make a quick decision: To try and get her out in one piece or amputate her legs to save her life, then quickly move on to other victims.

This story, along with many others told by veterans who lived through significant historical events in Singapore, was compiled into three electronic books by students from Ngee Ann Secondary School.

The three books will be released in the Apple iBook Store this month and will be available for free.

In the end, Mr Chng, now 70, issued an ultimatum to his men - if they could not rescue the woman within 15 minutes, they would have to move on to the next victim, as there were numerous casualties at the Hotel New World site.

Fortunately, they managed to save her within the time limit.

CHALLENGING CONCEPT

The main challenge was trying to conceptualise an idea for the iBook. Our first draft was quite boring.

THIN LAE YI ZAW, one of the students who worked on the iBook on the Hotel New World disaster.

Daniel Tan Yik Keong, one of the students who met Mr Chng, said: "He taught us that in life, it's inevitable to come by tough decisions."

The project, which began in May last year, involved 15 Secondary 3 students, all 15 years old. They interviewed Commitment to Defence Ambassadors - specifically veterans who served during tense historical events such as Konfrontasi.

The result: Three iBooks describing three veterans' experiences of significant events in Singapore's history: the 1964 racial riots, Konfrontasi from 1963 to 1966, and the collapse of Hotel New World.

Madam Farhana Mohamad Noor, 34, the school's head of character and citizenship education, said the aim of the project was to "curate and share these stories with a wider audience", and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of national service this year.

Through an engagement session held by the school's character and citizenship education committee through central National Education office Nexus in July, and subsequent interviews, the students obtained first-hand accounts of the events from those who had seen them unfold.

Many of the students said the veterans were forthcoming and willing to share their stories, while also imparting important life lessons.

However, the process was not without difficulty.

Student Thin Lae Yi Zaw, who worked on the iBook on the Hotel New World disaster, said "the main challenge was trying to conceptualise an idea for the iBook".

She added: "Our first draft was quite boring."

Other teams faced different hiccups.

Student Teo Xiaorou, who worked on the iBook featuring Captain (Retired) Shamsudin Shadan, now 85, and his experiences in the racial riots, said that sometimes they did not have the skills to get the information they needed during the interviews.

She and her team had to do research to fill the gaps in information.

Still, the students agreed that the experience was highly valuable and they had learnt a lot.

For instance, Shamine Pang Hwee San, who interviewed 73- year-old Syed Ibrahim Al Mahdali about his experiences during Kon- frontasi, was able to relate them to her daily life.

Shamine, who is on the student council, said: "Mr Syed Ibrahim said, 'you need to let your men know that you are one of them, but you are still above them'.

"I was a very easygoing person. But I've learnt to take control so that my friends will respect me as a councillor, but also know that I am with them."

Added student Rianne Goh Rui Qi: "We hope to share the stories with all Singaporeans and show gratitude to our veterans."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'Students' e-books retell S'pore history'. Print Edition | Subscribe