135 years on, the best is yet to be

135 years on, the best is yet to be
ACS (Independent)

The ACS135 Thanksgiving Service organised by the ACSOBA

1 March is a day deeply etched into the hearts of ACSians—what those from the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) family of schools call themselves. It’s a reminder of God’s continued blessings upon our school and causes us to reflect upon the tenacity and vision of our founder, Bishop William Fitzjames Oldham. ACS Founder’s Day is an institution of its own; the schools celebrate with much pomp and ceremony, and alumni look forward to reliving school days with friends and former teachers.

This 135th Founder’s Day was meant to be a grand endeavour. Echoing the celebration held in the Singapore Indoor Stadium in 2011, 10,000 ACSians were poised to congregate at the stadium to commemorate yet another milestone year. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions did not permit that plan to go ahead.

The path of least resistance would of course have been for us to blame the pandemic for the disruption and then hope for a better age. But that’s not the ACS nor the ACSOBA way. ACSians find a way—or make one.

Which is exactly what the ACSOBA did. We gathered in a different way, shaped by global events, but in a fashion that was no less meaningful.

On 1 March 2021, the ACS family congregated virtually at the ACS135 Thanksgiving Service. Produced by the ACSOBA, the service was telecast twice that day. The first telecast was at 8.30 a.m. to the eight ACS schools and their 11,000 students and 2,000 staff. The the second telecast was livestreamed at 6.15 p.m. on YouTube via the website and made available for replay. Close to 5,000 alumni across the world have since watched the service.

We were honoured to have Bishop Dr Gordon Wong as the guest of honour. He not only delivered the devotion—“One Hope, One Heart, One ACS”—but also led in the much-loved hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”. It was heart-warming to hear him share about his own experience at ACS, its impact on shaping his life and the gift of hope that we have been abundantly given.

Highlights of the Service included a virtual tour of the ONE ACS Heritage Centre, special greetings hosted by Singapore’s Number One ACS Fan, Kim Huat (as portrayed by mrbrown), a drone video of all the seven schools campuses entitled “On the Wings of Bishop Oldham’s Dreams”, “The Best Is Yet To Be”, a visual odyssey of the ACS journey from 70 Amoy Street to our most recent campus, ACS Jakarta, and the ACS135 Virtual Choir consisting of (over) 135 singers. We were also blessed with the angelic renditions of “To God Be The Glory” and “Be Thou My Vision” by members of the ACJC Alumni Choir and recollections by ACS alumni.

In celebrating our 135th anniversary, it should be clear that the Anglo-Chinese School is a work in progress, and that our motto of “The Best is Yet to Be” rings true time and again—that change and improvement have been a constant theme, although its stated ideals have remained as strong as ever. There was no “master plan” for the founding of ACS unless giving an education to as many who could benefit from it qualifies as one, and the school developed as a private Christian institution in response to the educational requirements of Singapore society.

A decade ago, I had the privilege to work with the late Mr Earnest Lau, former ACS Principal, chief editor of The ACS Story and archivist at The Methodist Church in Singapore, on a comprehensive summary of our ACS history through the decades to commemorate our 125th Anniversary. It gave me an even deeper appreciation of the ACS I thought I knew. And yet, no words will ever adequately capture the ACSpirit that can only be felt by those who have lived it.

Affectionately known as the Mr Chips of ACS, Mr Earnest Lau influenced the lives of thousands of ACSians. Many older ACSians associate him with the stirring and nostalgic “40 Years On” that he taught and sang with gusto when he first joined ACS as a teacher in the mid-1950s, whilst others from the 1977–83 era remember his charismatic leadership when he was principal.

The rich and storied history of ACS has since been captured by the ONE ACS Heritage Gallery, a gift from the ACSOBA to the ACS family of schools, which presents highlights of the history of the ACS family in a contemporary manner. It also showcases original artefacts from Bishop Oldham’s personal collection and memorabilia from all the ACS units. The gallery also provides tablets that contain special features, videos, interviews and archived photographs, as well as The ACS Story in a digital format. The gallery was officially opened by Mr Cecil Vivian Wong, Class of ’39 and President of ACSOBA (1958–61) on 27 July 2019 in celebration of the ACSOBA’s 105th anniversary.

On a personal note, it has been an honour of a lifetime to serve, and continue to serve, the ACSOBA. It is only through the efforts of committed alumni that we are able to carry on the traditions of ACS from generation to generation. Our buildings will crumble, the leadership of our nation and schools will change, but what must continue to endure is our commitment to God’s work through the ACSOBA and the ACSpirit.

To God Be the Glory. The Best Is Yet to Be!

Our ACS milestones

Credit: Mr Earnest Lau was the principal of ACS from 1977–83. This article originally appeared in the ACS 125 Commemorative Magazine.

In 1886, the immediate initiative came from Chinese businessmen who asked the Rev William F. Oldham to teach their sons. In fact, Mrs Marie Oldham, in a magazine article published in 1907, said that “there ought not to be any discrimination between evangelistic and educational work; each can be as educational or as evangelistic as the one in charge chooses to make it”. At that time, the school provided instruction in English in the morning and Chinese in the afternoon, and that was how it came to be called by its present name. The first 13 scholars studied at 70 Amoy Street, but the enrolment rapidly outgrew the shop house, forcing the first removal of the school to a new purpose-built school house adjoining the Methodist Church which the Rev Oldham had built at Coleman Street at the junction of Armenian Street. Here the ACS was to stay for many years until redevelopment in the 1950s obliged the School to rebuild.

An important educational philosophy introduced by Oldham strove not to confine his scholars’ learning simply to the Standards but sought to spread it over a larger area, “that it may be useful to them in all their afterlife”. Education should cultivate the man and transcend the making of a livelihood. With well-qualified missionaries with college degrees, it was possible to offer preparation for the Queen’s Scholarship, and introduce the Cambridge Junior and Senior examinations by the turn of the century.

In the 1910s, an ambitious educational innovation was introduced by the Rev J. S. Nagle, whose mission was the transformation of the ACS into the Anglo-Chinese College, a job for which Bishop Oldham specially selected him. Although the project itself failed to materialise, the preparatory arrangements begun by the Rev Nagle encouraged him to raise the quality of teaching staff through foreign recruitment, thus providing the School with an unprecedented intellectual edge. It was also under the Rev Nagle’s leadership that the Old Boys’ Association was set up in 1914.

The 1920s and 30s saw another milestone reached when some of the most prized and enduring traditions of ACS were introduced. The Principal from 1929–47, Mr T. W. Hinch, who is widely considered the tradition builder of ACS, played a central role in cultivating a distinctive School tradition that lay the foundation of what we now call the “ACS Spirit”. These traditions included the ACS Anthem written by H. M. Hoisington, which bonded and continues to bond ACSians together, the ACS Crest and Shield designed and created by Dr Yap Pheng Geck, and the House system to encourage sports and healthy rivalry among students during annual Athletics championships. The Houses were named after Bishops Thoburn and Oldham, the Rev Goh Hood Keng, Mr Tan Kah Kee and Mr Cheong Koon Seng, all of whom showed great passion for ACS. The House system, which all our ACS schools observe, has since expanded to include houses named after Dr Lee Seng Gee, Dr Shaw Vee Meng and Tan Sri Tan Chin Tuan.

The Pacific War years and the Occupation forced the closure of the School until after the war. The immediate post-war period saw a burst of activity, including a massive building programme that transformed the Barker campus into a fully equipped secondary school with its iconic clock tower, a sentinel of Bukit Timah. Together with this was the expansion of the Primary/Junior Schools both at Coleman Street where the original buildings were torn down and rebuilt to cater for a much enhanced enrolment, and Barker Road where the boys were taught in classes which had been temporarily occupied by the Secondary classes.

In 1950, Post School Certificate Classes, later known as Pre-University classes, were set up and the first batch of female students were enrolled in ACS. Two years later, Mr Thio Chan Bee, an Old Boy, became the School’s first Asian Principal. On 7 Jan 1955, ACS became the first Methodist school to have a Board of Governors. With the formation of the BOG, the Old Boys were able to provide even better service to the school as the Board, as it still does, comprises representatives from the Methodist Church, the ACSOBA and the ACS family.

The attainment of self-government and political independence of the 1950s and ’60s were a powerful force which raised educational horizons and made desirable significant new facilities. The first of the famous ACS Fun-O-Ramas was held on the Barker Road campus in 1956 to raise funds for the Pre-University block (“Lee Hall”) which was fully equipped with science laboratories and a library. Another breakthrough was the design and building of the Sports Complex and gymnasium and the first Olympic-sized school swimming pool in Singapore.

In the half century since the 1970s, educational expansion and upgrading saw even more dynamic changes to the School. ACS embraced the trend of introducing Junior College education and it established our Anglo-Chinese Junior College in 1977. ACJC also had the first full-sized football field and 400m running track that an ACS unit ever enjoyed.

The 1980s were yet another memorable period, with the building and resuscitation of Oldham Hall in 1985 to house both foreign scholars and ACS students. In addition, the Junior School moved out to a refurbished school building at Peck Hay Road with more space and facilities. On a grander scale was the transformation of Anglo-Chinese Secondary School to ACS (Independent) in 1988. The school was first located at Barker Road, then in January 1992, made its move to its new campus at Dover Road with outstanding facilities and boarding school. The site was officially opened by Dr Richard Hu, Minister of Finance of Singapore, on 1 March 1993. ACS (Independent) was recognised as an IB World School in 2005 and was the first national school in Singapore to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma. Two years later, in January 1994, ACS (Barker Road) was established as a full government-aided secondary school. The purpose of ACS (Barker Road) was to provide the feeder pupils from the two ACS primary schools with an additional option to continue with an ACS secondary education.

ACS ended the 20th century with a massive construction programme—this time, the complete rebuilding of the Barker Road campus to provide the new Barker Road Secondary and Primary School with an associated auditorium and performance theatres that set new standards in school architecture, appropriately winning a prestigious award for innovation and excellence. The completely new Oldham Hall stands as yet another feather in the cap of ACS.

In welcoming the exciting opportunities and challenges of the 21st century, we are reminded of William Oldham’s vision of an education that transcends mere preparation to earn a livelihood. Rather, it should broaden the mind and nourish the soul, thus enabling one
to live a full life.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the ACS Family welcomed its sixth member, ACS (International), which opened its doors on 3 Jan 2005 to a multinational cohort of students. To reinforce the unity of the ACS Family, the ONE ACS initiative was launched in 2006 to re-evaluate the mission and core values of our rapidly growing family. In 2007, STB-ACS (International) Jakarta became the first Anglo-Chinese School outside Singapore. The newer members to the ACS family promise to be further innovations in the history of “Our ACS Forever”. To accommodate the further growth of our student population, Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) moved to its current premises at Winstedt Road in Dec 2008. The ACS family looks to the future of our school with great anticipation for many more years to come.

In welcoming the exciting opportunities and challenges of the 21st century, we are reminded of William Oldham’s vision of an education that transcends mere preparation to earn a livelihood. Rather, it should broaden the mind and nourish the soul, thus enabling one to live a full life.

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Joy-marie Toh (MGS ’89, ACJC ’91) is the 2nd Vice-President, ACSOBA, and the Executive Producer of the ACS 135 Thanksgiving Service / Photos courtesy of ACSOBA; screenshots courtesy of Klaus Tan (ACS [I] ’18)