Writing a blog seems to trigger off memories. I don’t know if that happens to any of you bloggers out there, but the process of blogging has had the effect of making me look back towards days gone by. I am now in my early 50s and have recently been looking back rather fondly, yet wryly, at my school days in Singapore. In the throes of this new found desire to hark back to my youth, I have been looking for snapshots of my old school during my own time there. It was Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School.
It was a much simpler childhood then than kids seem to experience now. We never had mobile phones. We did not have computers. In fact, my family did not even have a TV (although countless other families did) until I was 12. My mother was opposed to having a TV as she said it would distract us kids from studying; but Dad wanted one. When it finally arrived, he became a lounger potato in the evenings. He had a garden lounger that he set up before the TV and would lie there after dinner each evening watching his favourite shows.
Both my parents were teachers. Dad was a secondary school teacher specialising in math and English. Mum was a primary school teacher and taught kids from 6-12 years of age. Educating their children well was of the utmost importance to my parents as they wanted us to have all the opportunities in the world that an excellent education can bestow. To this end, I had piano lesson once a week, violin lessons twice a week, math tuition 3 times a week, and Chinese tuition 4 times a week. All my tutors gave me homework to complete. My school teachers also gave me homework to do.
Extracurricular activities (ECA) were compulsory elements during my school days, so each pupil had to choose at least 2 activities to take part in once or twice a week outside teaching hours. One of these activities had to be a club; the other had to be an actual physical activity. One could change one’s ECA each year, but most of us carried on with the same ECA throughout our school careers.
Added to these activities were PE programmes where we would either stay back after school or arrive early before classes to to train for school competitions at the school itself; or, more usually, at a sports complex nearby. Often the training sessions were held on Saturdays. Once in secondary school, we also had compulsory workshop classes arranged at other establishments outside our usual school day in woodwork, electrical work, and metalwork.
I feel exhausted just looking at what I have written – what a lot of things we had to do! Yet none of us ever complained. It was expected of us and we did what we did and actually enjoyed the challenges. More times than I can remember, I would burn the candles at both ends. I remember once when I was studying for my Biology GCE ‘O’ level exams, and I could literally not focus my mind on what I was reading. Mum took control and sat beside me, reading out the material to me and testing me to see if I had memorised all salient facts.
Literature was my favourite subject in school, and Mrs Thomas was my favourite literature teacher. She had that rare gift of bringing the novels and poems we studied to life. Mrs Thomas was an Indian lady who came to work in her elegant saris. She was strict and quick to pick out those girls who were not concentrating in class. There were 44 kids in each class; and if one looked dozy, she would call on the unsuspecting culprit to answer a question on what we were discussing during the lesson.
One of the ways in which Mrs Thomas brought her lessons to life was to get her pupils to enact the scenes we were studying. I vividly remember studying Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen in class. Mrs Thomas would call different girls up to the front of the class to act out the conversations in the text. Although we were shy teenagers, we nevertheless enjoyed ourselves immensely and always looked forward to our literature classes. My love for certain literary works, including those of Jane Austen’s, really began because of Mrs Thomas’ unorthodox and hugely enjoyable methods of teaching English literature. I was 13 at the time.
But Mrs Thomas was also our English teacher. In Singapore, every child must study the grammatical rules of the English language – or at least we had to do this during my time at PLMGS. This was my downfall. For someone who has three English degrees, including two postgraduate degrees from the Universities of Alberta and Edinburgh, I was woefully inept at parsing sentences. Mrs Thomas had great fun calling on me to parse sentences. We sat in rows of twos in class. Without fail, I would be picked to parse a sentence, but my neighbour would often get away scot free!
As I think back to my school days, I cannot help comparing them with the ones my children have gone through in this, the 21st century. Back then, when we studied poetry or novels, we had to read the whole poem or book. In my sons’ previous school, they were provided excerpts of books and poems to read and asked to write essays based on the excerpts. I cannot believe that reading excerpts alone cannot give the reader a true understanding of the literary piece in question. Even if a story or poem is dull or difficult to understand, it must surely help the pupil who has read the full work to write more convincingly about it.
Thus here is a very potted history of my school days. I was a PLMGS pupil from 1968 to 1977. The school did not prepare me for a life as a B&B proprietor, but it did prepare me to face up to challenges in life and to embrace wholeheartedly a Christian way of life. Although pupils of many faiths studied at PLMGS, we were all given the opportunity to learn about Jesus and His gift of eternal salvation provided we accept Him as our Lord and Saviour. I remember doing so when I was just 12. Since then, Jesus has become an abiding presence in my life. I know he is always with me even in times of doubt and disobedience.
When I think back now to PLMGS, I realise just how all encompassing the care was that the school provided its pupils. We were given strict moral guidance; taught by teachers who truly cared for the welfare of their charges; encouraged to have faith in ourselves and our abilities; and last but not least, handed the keys and opportunities to explore for ourselves the relevance of the Gospel of Christ to our lives. It is only now, as a mother with grown children, that I can truly appreciate the richness of those 10 years of education I had at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School.
‘Blenheim Lodge . . . panoramic Lake views, peace and tranquillity, nestled against acres of beautiful fields and woodlands, in the heart of the English Lake District National Park.’
Visit our website: www.blenheim-lodge.com
Telephone: 00 44 (0)15394 43440