First Toa Payoh Secondary School was the first secondary school built to cater to the secondary school population of Singapore’s first satellite town solely developed by HDB, Toa Payoh. The school was part of the first such housing development with a town centre, social and recreational facilities and light industries. Lessons began in 1968 for Secondary 2 and 3 students from Kim Keat Vocational School and Thomson Secondary School. The school functioned as an integrated school offering English and Chinese.
It was officially opened on 2 May 1969, by Mr Eric Cheong Yuen Chee, then Member of Parliament for Toa Payoh. The school’s original site was on Lorong 1, Toa Payoh. The school was focused on ensuring the students are future-ready while grounded in strong values, as reflected in its motto, “To The Years Ahead”. To further emphasise the school’s aspirations for its students, FTPians, the following statements were drawn for its acronym:
F – Faith in Ourselves
T – Tolerance of Others
P – Perseverance in our Endevours
S – Sincerity in our Actions
S – Service to School and Nation..
A School Advisory Committee was formed to assist the school in raising funds for the extra-curricular activities and furnishing the school with more equipment, so as to provide students with a rich learning environment.
Following are the pioneer generation of students and teachers who have contributed to the progress of the school over the years.This first decade of personalities have helped shape the identity of the school which they recall with fondness and nostalgia.
Mr Teo Boon Seng
(Teacher, 1968 – 2007)
Early History of School
FTPSS was the first secondary school in Toa Payoh satellite town. It was an integrated secondary school but over the years with the diminishing Chinese stream population, and parents realising the importance of English as the lingua franca, it became an English medium institution. A Pre-U centre was started in the school before centralised Pre-U centres (known as Junior Colleges) were built island-wide. In the late 1990s, the Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams were introduced. 3 mergers took place in 2001, 2004 and 2016 respectively, the first involving three schools – FTPSS, Thomson and Pei Dao; the second with FTPSS and Upper Serangoon; and the third with FTPSS and Bartley.
About the Merger
Students are understandably saddened but accept the inevitable with the dwindling school population. They remain nostalgic and have remained true FTPSS ‘loyalists’ especially the cohort of 1974, which organises a reunion annually in September to rekindle the true spirit of their alma mater.
(Right) Mr Chan Boon Bun (Teacher, 1968 -2006)
and (left) Mr Hung Lum Chui (Teacher, 1968 – 2004)
Being in a new housing estate, FTPSS lacked the facilities that are a far cry from today’s developed housing estates. Sports Day was held in an open field with running tracks marked and drawn out by the teachers themselves. Afternoon lessons in classrooms were stuffy and teachers helped put up blinds to block out the hot rays of the afternoon sun. School was double session with Secondary 1 and 2 in the afternoon. As there were insufficient classrooms, teachers had to look for rooms which were temporarily vacated when students went for PE, Art or Music lessons. Despite these setbacks, teachers and students worked closely together without complaining about the inconveniences. Soon a feeling of togetherness developed and friendships were nurtured and developed long after learning at school ended.
Providing Support and Facing the Future
Life was difficult and students in great financial need found support from their teachers. Mr Chan recalls a particular case of a student who resorted to pilfering a few stationery items for her school daily needs as a result of her dire family situation. She remained in school till Secondary four but ended as a single parent. She still keeps in contact with Mr Chan every year who provides moral and psychological support. The closeness between teachers and students was clearly evident. Also meet-ups between him and past students are a regular event, which includes “naughty and mischievous students from past years”. There is a heartfelt sense of sadness and loss over the impending merger but being located in an ageing estate, FTPSS is unable to secure student numbers and the inevitable has to take place. But both Mr Chan and Mr Hung are confident that First Payoh Secondary School’s spirit will remain strong and united for a long time to come. “To the Years Ahead,” he asserts, strongly affirming the school motto.
Mr Mohamed Nor bin Mohamed Yusoff
(Teacher, 1968 – 1994)
From Island Schools to Government School
Having taught in island schools at Pulau Brani and Pulau Tekong from 1954 to 1967, Cikgu MohamedNor (as he is fondly remembered) found First Toa Payoh Secondary School a world apart in terms of facilities when he was transferred to the school in 1968. It was a ‘proper government school’ with Technical workshops, PE Room, Malay Language Room and a Staff Room among others, which were sorely lacking on the islands. At FTPSS he started the Malay Dance group and had students like Rahimah Rahim and her brother Mat Latiff to teach the dance to Chinese and Indian students as well. Today, Cikgu Mohamed Nor manages his own production house for Astro Channel in Malaysia focusing on heritage, culture and the arts of the Malay community.
Memories are made of these
Friendly faces of both the staff and students remain etched in his mind to this day. Being jovial by nature, Mr Mohamed Nor forged a close rapport with his students who make Hari Raya visits to his home annually. With the help of his colleagues he improved his English Language skills as they went on study tours. It would be sad if the name ‘First Toa Payoh’ is not retained as the heritage and culture would disappear after its merger.
Mr Tan Siong Hock
(Teacher, 1968 -1972)
A Step into History
As one of the founding teachers of First Toa Payoh Secondary School, Mr Tan recalls that it was located in a swamp area with no canteen facilities as it was a new school. There was also no public transport, and teachers relied on ‘pirate taxis’ to reach the school. Mr Tan’s colleagues included Mr Bernard Fong, the second principal of FTPSS, who later became Senior Inspector of Schools and then Principal of Hwa Chong Junior College, Mrs Angela Aw, the Art teacher who went on to be the Director of Training at MOE, and Cikgu Mohamed Nor who was the recipient of the Cultural Medallion in Music and The Arts, and Ms Emily Wu who wrote two books on great musical composers. Among his students in Secondary One, Mr Tan remembers a Secondary One student, Ms Rahimah Rahim the well-known Malay singer, a very “petite and industrious student’. As teacher in-charge of the school choir, Mr Tan co-wrote the school song with Mr Robert Toh.
With Pride and Nostalgia
Mr Tan recalls with pride the school band winning the coveted national Mace of Honour for Young and Emerging School Bands, together with East Payoh Secondary School in 1976. He is confident that the spirit of the school song and the values that the teachers have inculcated in the students will blend and continue to thrive in the new environment at Bartley Secondary School.
Mrs Yang Wei Chih
(Teacher, 1968 – 2004)
Care and Concern for Students
“If I could turn the life of just one student around, it would have been an achievement.” This strong belief of caring for students who generally came from disadvantaged homes made her volunteer as form teacher of the Normal Technical class every year. She believes that Normal Technical students do indeed have “big hearts” and once they are won over, their appreciation and co-operation know no bounds. By immersing herself in the activities and family backgrounds of the students, Mrs Yang found teaching both rewarding and meaningful.
Colleagues as Family Members
The teachers were very co-operative and there was no distinction between older and beginning teachers. Outings were organised which included the principal of the day as well as staff and their family members. This inclusiveness helped bring about camaraderie as they carried out their professional duties and helped one another overcome matters of a personal nature.
Mr Wong Chin Jiang
(Teacher, 1970 – 2011)
Early History of School
He first joined the school in 1970 and retired in 2011. He served in both premises. Mr Wong’s first memory was his first day in the school with the Principal. This was close on the heels of his completion of National Service. The transition was rather difficult. On the first day of school, the Principal then, emphasised the importance of wisdom. He was mentored by the teachers who were more senior than him.
He remembers his NCC cadets fondly because of the struggles he and the unit went through together.
Mr Wong related that while the students were not necessarily the best, the school did have its share of outstanding students. Two of whom became MPs. They were Mr Hri Kumar (1984) and Dr. Maliki (A-levels). The latter was the Head Prefect of the school. Dr. Maliki took on the role of ‘Discipline Master’ as the teachers recognised the leadership qualities he possessed.
Rustic and Homely Atmosphere
Surrounded by more than 20 varieties of fruit trees, Mr Wong remarks that FTPSS stood out as a countryside institution, exuding a homely atmosphere. Fruits were harvested and shared among the teaching and non-teaching staff as well as the students.Though the school became a single session school and ceased operations as a Pre-U Centre, there was a spirit of camaraderie as everyone worked closely for the well-being of the students.
Mr Wong Shoon Keat
(Student, 1971 -1974)
A Rich Legacy
A product of First Toa Payoh Secondary School, Mr Wong rode into history by clinching the SEA Games Men’s Badminton Finals title in 1983. FTPSS provided the perfect breeding ground for him to develop a love for sports and games – soccer, athletics, basketball and of course badminton. The school was a centre for the F&N training scheme in 1972 organised by Singapore Sports Council and Singapore Badminton Association, coached by national players. Soon Keat availed himself of the opportunity to excel in the game he loved most, encouraged and supported by his parents and teachers. Today, he is a full-time badminton coach at two secondary schools, a polytechnic and a junior college.
The Spirit Lives On
Mr Wong notes with pride that FTPSS was the first secondary school to be built in Toa Payoh town and is sad that the school will no longer be in existence after the merger with Bartley. However, like a true sportsman, he strongly believes that the ‘spirit will carry on in every student’s heart, including the teachers’. Well spoken words from a true sportsman.
Mr Koh Yiang Khing
(Parent, Student, 1971 – 1974)
Choosing a secondary school for their three children centred on three factors – a convenient location, their children’s ability and the staff of the school. Both Mr and Mrs Koh have not been disappointed in their selection of FTPSS for their children. As a former student of the school, Mr Koh believes that the school had developed not only his but his children’s characters as well. Two of his children, including Brian (left) are in the polytechnic while the youngest will be graduating next year. Mr and Mrs Koh assert that his children have ‘improved tremendously’ over the years and FTPSS had provided opportunities for their growth as independent and responsible members of the society.
Mr and Mrs Koh are concerned that their daughter Megan will be in a new environment at Bartley Secondary School, but with timely feedback and prompt responses to their enquiries, and the regular Parent-Teacher meetings, they are at ease that their daughter will be in safe hands and well taken care of.
Ms Tan Chor Hiang
(Student, 1972 – 1975, Teacher, 1990 – 1996)
Through the Years
She had very fond memories of the staff who were her mentors, later as her working colleagues before she became HOD of the EL Department. Her teachers drew on innovative strategies to develop in students a love for the English Language, and trips and excursions were regularly organised to enliven the learning of the language. Her teachers became her friends and they even urged her to address them by their first names, drawing their relationships even closer.
Collaborating with One Another
The strong bonds among the staff were clearly seen through the organising of the annual National Day Parades, the “Lo Hei’ event, Speech Day, which reinforced the rapport which extended beyond the confines of the school premises. The culmination was when the whole school banded together to produce the musical “Cats” for the school’s 25th anniversary celebrations.
Mrs Liu Kam Tong
(Teacher, 1973 – 2015)
Memories of Early Years
There was a sense of identity and pride although the school functioned as a double-session integrated school with Chinese and English streams. The school community was vibrant and a strong sense of belonging was evident notwithstanding the school population of 1600 to 1800 students. Working together on school projects, and engaging in professional discussions, Mrs Liu regarded her colleagues as family members going on regular camps to Tanah Merah and Changi Beach, visits to JB and having ‘fruit parties’ with fruits purchased from Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre.
More than Just a School
There was a strong attachment to the school among the staff and students. School was a second home and students regarded teachers as more than just transmitters of academic knowledge. Teachers have deep knowledge of their students and their families. One student who later went to Australia on a scholarship before returning to Malaysia to care for his aged parents even addressed her as “Mum”. This underlined the close rapport teachers shared with their students.
Ms Chan Mei Xiong
(Student, 1974 – 1977)
A Big Family
Ms Chan came to FTPSS in Secondary One together with her whole class in First Toa Payoh Primary School. It was like a big family on the move. It was a very happy 4-year stay at FTPSS with teachers who were very friendly and encouraging. She recalls with fondness her training sessions in the ‘Tian Jin’ group at the National Stadium from morning to night during the holidays. She was especially grateful to the school which sponsored her with free CCA attire for the four years she was in the school. Her gratitude also extends to her Art teacher Mr Xu Rong Fang who taught her the ‘wood-iron’ skills in the subject. She looks forward to the Homecoming occasion to renew her friendship with her CCA friends and former classmates.
Feelings about the Change
Ms Chan is understandably sad and disappointed as FTPSS provided her with many good memories. However, she realises that life is never static and change is inevitable. Nevertheless, she is looking forward to the Homecoming ceremony and relive the happy memories she and her friends had of FTPSS.
Ms Chua Poh Hoon
(Student, 1974 – 1977)
Working Together Without Discrimination
Ms Chua was from the Chinese stream but she fitted in well in the integrated school. There was no discrimination from the majority of the English stream students. Her ECA uniform group training exposed her not only to the many outdoor activities that National Cadet Corps offered, but also enlarged her circle of friends from whom she developed her English Language skills. She is particularly grateful to Mr Wu, her Mathematics teacher who not only helped to improve her numeracy skills but developed her love for the subject. She is a financial controller today.
Strong Attachment for her Alma Mater
Ms Chua is proud that her alma mater had developed leadership qualities and self-discipline in her. Her strong attachment for her alma mater has prompted her to initiate a meeting with like-minded alumni which will culminate in a Homecoming dinner in November.
Mr Wang Kar Joo
(Parent, Student, 1978 – 1981)
Environment and Culture of School
Being an alumnus of the school and father of Jun Xiong, a current student of the school, Mr Wang naturally feels a sense of pride for the school. He adds that the learning environment is conducive, teachers are hardworking and provide constructive feedback on students’ progress in their studies. This has improved teacher-student relationships as well as the quality of parent-teacher conferences. His son has reached ‘greater heights’ in his studies and ‘increased his self-confidence’. Mrs Wang observes the Principal standing at the school gate and watching the students arriving at school safely, regardless of the weather. The DM, Mr Chong, is also very concerned about the students. When there is heavy rain, he would pass the umbrellas to students at the HDB flats across the school so that they would be able to reach school safely.
Looking at the Current and Future Situations
Mr Wang is of the opinion that the school situation has improved a lot compared to the time when he was a student. The teachers are more caring and create a welcoming atmosphere ‘consistently throughout the year’. They are more like friends and help to solve any problems that students face, like members of an extended family. Mrs Wang expresses her gratitude to the many teachers who have taken great care of her son and is confident that the same care and concern will be accorded to students after the merger.
Mr Hri Kumar
(Student, 1979 -1982)
Working Together – Students and Teachers
The teachers devoted much time to the students, and Hri Kumar worked closely with them as a Student Councillor. Teachers like Mr Chan So Har, Mr Lim and Mr Chan Boon Bun readily come to mind who helped forge values such as gratitude and hard work. Though students of FTPSS were mainly from HDB background and were disadvantaged in terms of CCA facilities (his band members had to travel to CCA Centre at Farrer Park to avail themselves of the percussion instruments), they nevertheless felt proud to clinch Bronze medal in the SYF Band competition. They had done the school proud. Working together for a common goal with everyone trying their best, and getting on well with one another and with the teachers, remain etched in Mr Hri Kumar’s memory.
Life in the Good Old Days
Life was simple and it was not about “big cars or big houses”. Most students came from very humble backgrounds from Toa Payoh itself, and their main goal was to achieve good grades in their studies and make their families happy and eventually improve their lot in life. Decent hard work and trying the best to improve one’s life “regardless of what school you came from” were the order of the day, and kept students of FTPSS grounded as Singaporeans.
EVERY JOURNEY BEGINS WITH
A SINGLE STEP