Gan Eng Seng School
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Gan Eng Seng School is one of the oldest schools in Singapore and the first free school to be founded and maintained by a local-born Chinese benefactor in the Straits Settlements. First established as the Anglo-Chinese Free School in 1885 and later renamed Gan Eng Seng School after its founder, the school relocated seven times before settling at its present site between Henderson and Alexandra Roads. It was well known as a feeder school to Raffles Institution in its early days, and for introducing bilingual education in English and Chinese in 1913.
In 1885, Malacca-born businessman Gan Eng Seng founded the Anglo-Chinese Free School to offer free Chinese and English primary education to poor boys living in the vicinity. The school was housed in shophouses located along Telok Ayer Beach (later renamed Telok Ayer Street following land reclamation works in 1889) and all the school’s expenses were financed by Gan. Impressed by Gan’s works, the colonial government offered to provide a site in Telok Ayer Street for a new school. Gan accepted the offer and financed the construction and furnishment of the new two-storey building. The building was officially declared opened by Governor of the Straits Settlements Sir Cecil Clementi Smith on 4 April 1893. The school remained at this site until 1941.
After Gan’s death in 1899, a Board of Trustees was established to take over the school management. The Board was made up of prominent Peranakan Chinese, including lawyers Wee Theam Tew and Sir Song Ong Siang; entrepereneur Ho Yang Peng; renowned philanthropist Dr Lim Boon Keng; financier Lee Cheng Yan; and the owners of law firm Chan and Swee Teow, S. J. Chan and Wee Swee Teow. Despite the Board’s notable standing, the school was not financially sustainable as a free school and began to charge school fees on a monthly basis.
The running of the school was taken over by the colonial government in 1938 after the Board ran into serious financial difficulties. Percival Frank Aroozoo was appointed headmaster of the school in the same year and had the heavy responsibility of leading the school through its most traumatic period. By then, the school building was deterioriating and was deemed to be unsafe by the Public Works Department. The school was forced to evacuate to the Sepoy Lines Malay School in Park Road and Pearl’s Hill School nearby. Although there were plans for a new building in Anson Road, these failed to take shape due to the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945.
The school underwent major developments in the 1950s. It was reopened after the war and temporarily housed in the premises of Outram Road School before relocating to the abandoned Japanese National School building at Waterloo Street (known today as the Stamford Arts Centre). This was followed by the establishment of Singapore’s first Parent-Teacher Association in 1950 to create better understanding between teachers and parents. In addition, a new two-storey building at Anson Road was opened on 15 May 1951 by Governor of Singapore Sir Franklin Gimson. Evening adult education classes were introduced in October of the same year, providing new education opportunities for illiterate adults. The school was converted into a secondary school the following year.
Between 1961 and 1991, the school also served as a pre-university centre. The intake of pre-university girls for the sixth-form class signified the school’s gradual transformation into a co-educational institution. The process of becoming co-educational was completed with the admission of the first cohort of girls into secondary one in 1987, after the school’s relocation to Raeburn Park. Due to its proximity to the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, the new premises were soon found to be unsatisfactory as the students and teaching staff often had to put up with noise and air pollution. A new campus located between Henderson and Alexandra Roads was completed in 2001 and has served as the school’s premises since.
Among Gan Eng Seng School’s achievements was the implementation of bilingual learning in Chinese and English, a move that predated the present bilingual policy in the education system. Renowned as a feeder primary school to Raffles Institution between 1938 and 1951, it has produced eminent alumni including former Minister for Communications Dr Yeo Ning Hong; former principal of Singapore Polytechnic Dr Khoo Kay Chai; and former Accountant-General Chua Kim Yeow.
Anglo-Chinese Free School was refered to as Gan Eng Seng School in the 1927 Singapore and Straits Directory, probably to distinguish it from the Anglo-Chinese School founded by Dr W. F. Oldham. The disparity over the school name continued until 1930. While the sign at the school building facing Cecil Street showed “Anglo-Chinese English School”, the old sign at Telok Ayer Street read “Anglo-Chinese Free School”. It was officially recognised as Gan Eng Seng School after relocating to Anson Road, and renamed Gan Eng Seng Secondary School upon relocating to Raeburn Park. In January 1993, it reverted to its historical name, Gan Eng Seng School.
1885 : Anglo-Chinese Free School was founded by Gan Eng Seng at Telok Ayer Street.
1893 : New school building was opened at Telok Ayer Street.
1898 : A second building facing Cecil Street was added.
1899 : Gan Eng Seng died. A Board of Trustees was established to take over the school management.
1913 : Mandarin was made a compulsory second language subject in the school, following a period when only English was taught after Gan’s death.
1938 : Became a government school. Percival Frank Aroozoo was appointed headmaster.
1941 : Relocated to the Sepoy Lines Malay School and Pearl’s Hill School.
1946 : School reopened using the premises of Outram Road School.
1947 : Relocated to a Japanese school building in Waterloo Street.
1949 : Publication of the first school magazine, Onward.
1950 : Established Singapore’s first Parent-Teacher Association.
1951 : Official opening of the school premises at Anson Road.
1952 : Transformed into a secondary school.
1954 : Gan Eng Seng School Old Students' Association (GESSOSA) was formed.
1961 : Introduction of admissions for pre-university students.
1986 : Relocated to Raeburn Park.
1987 : Admission of the first cohort of Secondary One girls.
1991 : Ceased to be a pre-university centre.
1997 : The original location of Gan Eng Seng School in Telok Ayer Street was marked as a historic site.
2001 : Moved to the new campus between Henderson and Alexandra Roads.
2010 : School celebrated its 125th anniversary.
Chow Yaw Huah
$500,000 school after 10 years. (1949, March 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
A ‘homeless’ school. (1947, April 10). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Building ban will not hit the school plans: Gimson. (1951, May 16). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Dabbs, D. M. (1994). The history of Gan Eng Seng School. Singapore: D. M. Dabbs.
(Call no.: RSING 372.95957 DAB)
Gan Eng Seng School. (2009). GESS History. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from http://www.gess.edu.sg/gess/main/gesshistory.php
Gan Eng Seng School Old Students' Association. (n.d.). The Historical Sites. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from http://www.gess.edu.sg/gess/u/osa/
Gan Eng Seng Secondary School. (1989). G.E.S.S. official opening, 12th July 1989. Singapore: Gan Eng Seng Secondary School.
(Call no.: RCLOS 373.5957 GAN . 12 Jl 1989)
Gan Eeng Seng pupils to go to another school. (1941, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved March 24, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Ministry of Education. (2010, July 18). Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen speaks at Gan Eng Seng School’s 125th anniversary dinner at Raffles City Convention Centre [press release]. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from Factiva.
National Heritage Board. (2009). Gan Eng Seng School. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from http://heritagetrails.sg/content/678/Gan_Eng_Seng_School.html
On the margin – Gan Eng Seng. (1950, December 4). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
One of oldest boys' schools to go co-ed and to move. (1985, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Parent-Teacher Assn. formed. (1950, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Phang, M. F., & Chang, Y. T. (2006). The pictorial history of Gan Eng Seng School: in commemoration of our 120 years of extraordinary existence. Singapore: Gan Eng Seng School Old Students' Association.
(Call no.: RSING 370.95957 PIC)
School gets its seventh home: Gan Eng Seng’s pioneering spirit lives on. (1989, July 13). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
The Anglo-Chinese “Free” School. (1893, April 5). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 2. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
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.