SINGAPORE - Highlighting the crucial role Singapore's pioneer educators played in nation-building, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday urged the education fraternity to build on their determination and can-do spirit.
He was speaking at an SG50 event at Gardens by the Bay, where 4,700 pioneer educators were feted.
Thanking them for their contributions, Mr Heng said: "It is not an overstatement when I say, 'Every person in Singapore today passed through your collective hands. Who we are today is a measure of your achievement.'"
Referring to the memoirs of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Heng recalled how in 1964, the Kuala Lumpur federal government refused Singapore permission to use its police band for the island's State Day celebrations.
In response, Mr Lee told the Education Ministry to get all secondary schools to start a brass band crash course. A year later, several school bands were part of the parade.
From just four brass bands and nine bugle bands in the mid-1960s, the Republic now has almost 240 school bands, said Mr Heng.
"Time and time again, we hear stories of how our pioneers refused to accept the naysayers, dared to dream and defied adversity by turning it into opportunity, resolute to make the impossible, possible."
For instance, there was Mr Lee Seck Kiang, who despite not being able to read a single note of music, came forward in the 1960s when the ministry called for a pioneer batch of band directors to be trained.
Not only did Mr Lee, now 85, start the Crescent Girls' School band, but he also went on to lead it in performing its most challenging repertoire.
Mr Heng also spoke about retired principal Daisie Yip, who started Greenridge Primary School in 1995.
The new school's facilities were not ready. Classes had to be conducted in shipping containers and there was no money for instruments to set up a band her pupils wanted.
So she approached other schools for their old and unwanted instruments.
In 1998, the band was the only one from Asia to perform at Disneyland Paris as part of the World Cup tournament in France.
Mr Heng said such stories of "determination and never-say-die (attitude) illustrate the DNA of the values and work ethic handed down to us by our pioneers".
But even as the country appreciated the work of its pioneers, Singaporeans also need to draw inspiration from them, he said.
"Now, how are we going to make the next 50 years brighter and better together?"
Mr Heng, who is also chairman of the SG50 Steering Committee, launched three commemorative coins marking the role of education here.
The $2, $5 and $50 coins - themed Education, Building our Nation Together - will be issued on May 28. Pre-orders for the coins must reach The Singapore Mint by May 15.
(From left) Commemorative $2, $50 and $5 coins marking the role of education here will be issued on May 28.
HE COACHED A STAR ATHLETE
In the 1980s, when he was a physical education teacher at Pasir Panjang Secondary, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Mahoo came across a student with a special talent.
"I was teaching him how to throw a discus and he threw it very far. I asked him to throw it again and he did even better," recalled the 70-year-old yesterday at an event to pay tribute to pioneer educators.
That Secondary 2 boy went on to amass 10 SEA Games gold medals.
"I'm still very close to him," said Mr Mohamed Abdullah of Mr James Wong, now 45.
He remembers how he once bought the thrower a pair of shoes when he had to compete overseas.
"I came from a poor family myself and sometimes had no money for recess breaks. My teachers had to help me," he told The Sunday Times.
Mr Mohamed Abdullah started teaching at Labrador Primary School in 1965. While he has retired as a full-time teacher, he is still doing contract teaching at Yusof Ishak Secondary School.
By next month, he would have served 50 years as an educator.
LAB VETERAN TREASURES HIS JOB
In 1970, Mr Ng Yang Ann started working as a school laboratory technician, earning $175 a month to support his parents and eight siblings.
Now 66, he is still in the same job. "My first job was very important to me. I treasure it very much and have had no intentions of job-hopping," he said.
Not only did he stick to one job, he has worked for just two schools - Woodsville Secondary School and his current workplace, MacPherson Secondary School - as he appreciates his colleagues and the schools' work culture.
Mr Ng, who prepares the laboratories for chemistry classes, loves the subject so much that he went out of his way to help a team from MacPherson Secondary prepare for a competition for chemical-powered cars.
"You use acid and bicarbonate to power and move the car," he said. "We managed a podium finish!"
While chemistry is his favourite subject, Mr Ng also prepares the school's labs for physics and biology lessons.
Asked if his two children and wife would like him to retire, Mr Ng said he is still in good health and would like to work for as long as he can.
"I still enjoy my work," he said.
This article was first published on April 5, 2015.
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