Almost every student has heard stories about the ghost in the school toilet.
But probably few would have thought that their school might even become a ghost itself.
Recent news about the Ministry of Education’s decision to merge a number of primary, secondary schools and junior colleges, and the accompanying reactions remind us on how these national decisions can affect us so personally.
—- Stephanie —-
My primary school was Tanglin Girls’ School (TGS) on top of Kay Siang Hill. I was in that school for five enjoyable years before my parents transferred me because we had moved out of the area. I had a close group of friends, I was going to be a prefect, it was just one more year to PSLE. Couldn’t it wait? t still have residual resentment towards my parents because of that decision.
What happened next only made matters worse. My report book was given to the new school I went to, and subsequently lost. So there is no official record of me attending TGS. Then a couple of years later, the school was merged and then closed. What remains of my school life from primary 1 to 5 are my memories and membership in a TGS Whatsapp chat group. I don’t even have a photograph taken in TGS.
I envy alumni of the established schools, the Rafflesians, the IJ girls, the MGS alumnae. They have a school they can still go back to, a school that their children and grandchildren can attend and forge new memories in. I have only intangibles…an abstract school that no longer exists.
A year or so ago, a few TGS alumni visited the old school building which is still standing. I saw photos of their visit on what’s app. I have not been there myself. Going there, seeing the empty building devoid of life, would confront me to the cruel reality of its death. So I avoid visiting the haunted building, read the chatter on the TGS Whatsapp group and live in the bliss of personal nostalgia.
—- Jaime —-
In two years’ time, when the new school mergers are in place, I’d have “lost” two schools – East View Primary School and Tampines Junior College.
I was in Primary 4 when my parents transferred me to East View Primary School. We had just moved into Tampines and my younger brother was due to start his primary school education. My parents preferred that the two of us attended the same school. So in the first week of Primary 4, I changed school uniform. I was not happy, at all. I had friends at my old school – Kuo Chuan Presbyterian, which was actually Kuo Chuan Girls’ School when I started in Primary 1. I didn’t want to play the bouncer for my younger brother. But on news that Kuo Chuan was to move to Bishan, my parents decided to transfer me out of the school to one that was nearer.
I spent three good years at East View Primary. I had good friends and great teachers. I can still remember how to sing the school song after 30 years! I knew every nook and cranny in the school, including the best spot in the school library where the aircon blast is the coolest.
TPJC saw me through two of the most important years of my life – transitioning from a teenager to an adult (somewhat). I’m still in touch with many of my classmates and we still remember the good times. In my mind’s eye, I can still wander all around the school and I can probably mark where what happened when to who.
East View Primary School is to merge with its neighbour Junyuan Primary School. Interestingly, Junyuan was the school my father attended but as Choon Guan Primary School, when it was in Joo Chiat. By the time it had become “Junyuan”, a lot has changed and many students did not know the history of the school. To them – and many parents, it was just another neighbourhood school in a new neighbourhood.
The latest school merger exercise will also see my parents’ secondary schools merging – Macpherson Secondary and Broadrick Secondary. With that, my mum’s schooling history is also gone. The primary school she attended has long been relegated to the pages of history, and now the secondary school she attended will be too.
School mergers, name changes – all these wipe out the history of the entity and the identity of the individuals who were associated with these institutions. Some of us may have mementos to remember the institutions by, while others – like Stephanie – only have memories. My childhood homes have been redeveloped beyond recognition. The schools I attended will be no more. I feel like a floater – there’s nothing much else to anchor me to my past, to Singapore it seems.
How are we supposed to feel a sense of belonging when the places and institutions we belonged to are erased?
Am I too sentimental?