'I'm like a coin still in circulation'

'I'm like a coin still in circulation'

SINGAPORE - A mural at Yishun Secondary School depicts scenes of old and modern Singapore. Trams contrast with today's MRT. A line of people queue for water rations, against people drinking Newater.

Art teacher Alan Wong Hiong Boon painted it in 2008 with the help of students. He says he did it to tell students that everything is now "made for them", unlike in Singapore's early years, and they should not "just enjoy the opportunities but use the opportunities to do more for themselves".

He ought to know. The adjunct teacher, who painted two other murals in the school, is still going strong at 81. He teaches students of all levels in Yishun Secondary. He is in school from 7.30am to 2.30pm every day and would say only that he is paid by the hour.

The active octogenarian hopes he can help young Singaporeans "appreciate art as a way of life".

He says: "Out of 40 students, one or two may become artists, the rest will know the value of good art. Maybe they can become collectors and so the professional artists can earn a better living."

His teaching career began in 1951, when Singapore was still under British colonial rule. He went to the Teachers' Training College after his O levels. He first taught all subjects at primary school level, then history, geography, English and art at what is now Serangoon Secondary School.

In the 1960s, he worked at the National Youth Leadership Institute, which trained youth leaders, and in the late 1960s, after the nation's independence, became a training officer in the civil defence force where he devised training programmes.

He rose in the ranks and in 1983, retired as the force's deputy commandant.

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