Singapore Chinese Girls' School (SCGS)
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Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) is an independent full school comprising primary and secondary levels. It was the first girls’ school founded and run by Peranakan Chinese (also known as Straits-born Chinese) and provided bilingual education in English and Chinese to Peranakan Chinese girls, at a time when education for females in Singapore was dominated by foreign missionaries and catered mainly to English and Eurasian children. Established in 1899 at Hill Street, the school was relocated three times, including spending 70 years at Emerald Hill, before settling in its present location at Dunearn Road in 1994.
The school owes its establishment to a small group of British-educated Peranakan Chinese men such as Sir Song Ong Siang and Dr Lim Boon Keng. Dr Lim, in particular, greatly emphasised the need for an all-round education for girls in order for China to progress. Traditional parents, however, remained unconvinced of the need to educate their daughters, and objected to Dr Lim’s proposal to run the school like an English one. Nevertheless, the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was opened on 3 July 1899 at Deveronside, No. 32 Hill Street, with only seven students and Mary Geary as its first principal. Among its teaching staff was the first wife of Dr Lim, who taught the Chinese language twice a week to the older girls.
The first two decades of the school’s history were fraught with difficulties. Amid strong opposition from conservatives, sedans had to be arranged for the girls to be ferried between the school and their homes in order to avoid public scrutiny. The school also faced financial difficulties and a high turnover rate among the teachers who were often underpaid and underqualified. High rental rates and the dilapidated state of the school building forced the school to relocate to new premises along Hill Street in 1906. The situation remained unsatisfactory as the new premises failed to accommodate the rising enrolment. On 13 July 1908, the school moved again, this time to a new site offered by the colonial government on the corner of Hill Street and Armenian Street that is now occupied by the Central Fire Station.
In 1924, the hunt for a new site began, following the colonial government’s demand for the return of the land. Moreover, the existing school premises were found to be too old and the locality overcrowded with commercial buildings. A piece of land belonging to Dr Lim Boon Keng at No. 37 Emerald Hill, facing Emerald Hill Road and Cairnhill Road, was acquired for the construction of a new purpose-built school building, complete with 12 classrooms, an assembly hall, a staff room and principal’s office. This double-storey building served as the school’s premises for the next 70 years.
The school became a self-contained institution incorporating Junior and Senior Cambridge classes in 1936, a policy that was in line with other girls’ schools to facilitate students’ entry into Raffles College and the King Edward VII College of Medicine. Three years later, SCGS saw another major milestone in its history – the appointment of Tan Swee Khin as its acting Headmistress, the first time the school had been headed by a non-European. Tan formally succeeded Jessie Elizabeth Geake as the school principal when the latter retired in 1951.
During the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945, the school was turned into quarters providing “comfort women” to Japanese troops. Lessons restarted after the war. By then, the school had ceased to be a wholly Chinese school as it extended its enrolment to girls of all ethnicities. In addition, an afternoon school was set up to meet the rising enrolment rates. In 1989, the year of its 90th anniversary, it became an independent school.
To accommodate the increasing student population and to provide better facilities, the school relocated to its current site at Dunearn Road. The new school building was officially opened by then Education Minister Lee Yock Suan on 8 July 1995. Three of the school blocks were named Sir Song Ong Siang, Tan Hoon Siang and Evan Wong, in memory of the pioneers who had contributed significantly to the establishment of the school.
Among the school’s alumni are Dr Lee Choo Neo, the first Peranakan Chinese girl to obtain the Senior Cambridge certificate and the first woman to qualify for medicine from the King Edward VII Medical School; ex-parliamentarian Seow Peck Leng; and Singapore’s 16th Rhodes Scholar, Patricia Tan Shu Ming. Unknown to many, the school also took in male students between 1905 and 1936, among them Peranakan playwright Felix Chia.
Chow Yaw Huah
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The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.