Learn to fence, sail and golf... at schools in the heartland

Learn to fence, sail and golf... at schools in the heartland

School's out, and the teens head down to the golf course to play a few holes. Some settle down with a cello and sheet music. Others don fencing gear or rig their sailboats in preparation for a voyage.

These students are not indulging in their private hobbies, but are pursuing co-curricular activities (CCAs) - in heartland schools.

Three neighbourhood schools - Jurongville Secondary School (JSS), North Vista Secondary School (NVSS) and Pasir Ris Crest Secondary School (PRCSS) - offer such unusual CCAs.

JSS' sailing club, which started off as a student-initiated interest group in 2008, has about 30 members.

Joel Chia, the school's head of department for physical education and CCA, listed Ministry of Education subsidies and school leadership as key factors in sustaining the club.

He also noted "an improvement in the character of the students" after the sailing programme was implemented.

Just ask Gwen Neo, 15, who joined the club out of interest and curiosity, and has not looked back since.

"I will ensure I rig my boat properly before setting sail, so that I will not capsize. This philosophy applies to my studies too," she told My Paper.

Meanwhile, at PRCSS, a group of Secondary 1 students settle into the basic fencing stance of en garde. Soon, they will learn to lunge and parry, or attack and defend, with a foil.

All Sec 1 students at the school must complete 21 hours of basic fencing lessons, in an introductory course by the school. Interested students can then decide if they want to pursue it as their CCA. On average, 80 students stay on in the club.

While fencing was formally inducted into the National School Games in 2011, the PRCSS fencing club was started much earlier, in 2001.

And the trailblazing efforts have paid off. The school finished among the top three for the Girls' B Division, as well as the Boys' and Girls' C Division, at the National Inter-School Fencing Championships in April.

Irsyad Feerqan, 16, is one of the most senior members in the club. Although he was initially "forced" by his brother to join fencing, he soon realised his passion for the sport, even training on his own during weekends occasionally.

Elsewhere in the north, students from NVSS are spoilt for choice with not just one, but two non-mainstream CCAs. Both its golfing club and string ensemble were set up in 2003 and are thriving, with 43 and 45 current members respectively.

Said NVSS head of department for physical education and CCA Javier Yon: "We believe in creating a world of possibilities for every student. As not all students are able to afford costly golf and music lessons, we are offering them an opportunity to develop their talents."

The school aims to dispel misconceptions that such activities are elitist or inaccessible by focusing on the character development they offer, such as teamwork, integrity and perseverance.

When asked about an important lesson learnt from her sport, golf captain Kelly Foo said that "fair play and personal integrity" were "invaluable" for her. The 15-year-old has been teeing off since primary school and joined NVSS for its golfing club.

Such opportunities in heartland schools are rare for good reason - procurement and upkeep of golfing equipment and instruments can be costly.

My Paper understands that the school owns several sets of golf clubs that were sponsored by DBS Bank back in 2005. The coach supplies the drivers. However, all student golfers are encouraged to buy their own golf gloves and shoes.

Similarly, the violins, cellos, violas and double basses belong to the school, and may be loaned out to students who want to practise at home. This is good news for students like Coco Lim, 15, who plays the double bass.

"As a child, I had an interest in violins and other string instruments, but never got a chance to learn them," she said.

The president of the string ensemble added that they train anywhere from six to 12 hours weekly, depending on the competition schedule.

"As the Chinese proverb goes, a minute onstage is worth 10 years of offstage work. The chance to perform onstage does not come easily for us, which is all the more why we treasure it."


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