I arrived in Singapore from a cold grey London which suffered from dreadful smoky fog - which sometimes led to us being sent home early from school. My London school had been a new state of the art comprehensive (ie non selective) school. I could walk to the school which was only a mile away from my home wearing the traditional school blazer, shirt, tie, v-neck pullover and long flannel trouser uniform.
There could not have been a greater contrast with Changi Grammar School in Singapore. I found myself dressed in a uniform of khaki shorts and white shirt, I was suffering not from smog but from the steamy heat and I was sat not in a modern multi-story building but in an attap hut with chicken wire windows!
I don’t have a picture of the huts with my class but here is a picture of a primary school class in the same row of huts at Changi.
And here I am in my school uniform – with the regulation long shorts turned up inside to make them shorter and more fashionable!
Getting to school was the first challenge to me. I had suffered from travel sickness in buses and now I had to travel from the Orchard Estate (my first home) in one of the Gharries – service buses which brought kids to the three schools (Grammar, Secondary Modern and Primary) that occupied a central location in the then RAF base. I remember telling myself on the first day that I would no longer be travel sick – and I never was!
The gharries arrived from the various places in the Changi area occupied by service personnel, dropped us in the central playground – to which they returned at the end of the school day to pick us up. There was one advantage to being in the gharry that arrived first – a quick exit and a run up to the coke machine in the ground floor corridor of the barrack block would get you one of the first cokes of the day. This would often be frozen – and for some reason this was considered as a big treat.
The school day was relatively short – an early morning start and finish at lunchtime Monday to Saturday, although there were sport and other activities on two afternoons each week. We followed the UK curriculum of course – most of us were there for only two and a half years and had to fit back into the UK exam system on our return. Our teachers were, I think, in post for a longer period of at least five years. So by the time you left the school to return to the UK virtually everyone in your class would have arrived after you!
Although I found myself based first in the attap hut, most of the school occupied a couple of barrack blocks, three storey buildings with a corridor around the outside of the building onto which the classrooms opened – windowless and without air conditioning of course. So after a couple of terms in the attap hut I moved into the barrack blocks.
The barrack blocks are still there in Changi, now occupied (and no doubt much updated) for use by the SAF. John Harper took a photo on his recent trip – although the blocks now look much changed but there was evidence of other old school buildings.
Did I enjoy the Changi school experience? To be honest I don’t recall benefiting very much from the education! Being in Singapore was an overwhelming experience, there were too many distractions and too much to see and do as soon as school was over – things I have written about in other blog pieces.
Reading Chun See’s blog and visiting sites like Memories of Singapore has made me acutely aware of one thing – I knew nothing about other British Schools let alone schools for Singapore’s own population. What sort of school day did you Singaporeans experience? I recall hearing about schools operating a shift system to accommodate the growing numbers of school-children, was that true? And what sort of buildings did you have – and was there air conditioning in schools, then or now?