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Giving students a second chance

A physics lesson at St Francis Methodist School. — SFMS picture.

80 years ago, Anglo-Chinese Continuation School was set up

Eight years ago, St Francis Methodist School was opened

EIGHTY years ago, a Methodist missionary pioneered Anglo-Chinese Continuation School (ACCS), giving students a second chance to be educated in Singapore. The circumstances leading to its inception, and its contemporary equivalent, make interesting reading.

ACS had experienced a rather eventful decade previously. Barely into its 25th anniversary in 1913, the Rev J. S. Nagle assumed the principalship with an ambitious plan – establishing Anglo-Chinese College, a project that had been in Bishop William Oldham’s mind from the outset of his ministry, and he now considered timely. The college appeared to have had a number of objectives, academic, commercial and probably theological.

Sadly, the college project had to be abandoned because the colonial government finally turned down the proposal – having in mind the establishment of Raffles College.

However, in preparing for the college, the Rev Nagle actively upgraded the academic quality of the teaching staff by recruiting several foreign university graduates, and secured scholarships in Hong Kong University for three promising ACS students, Lee Choon Eng, Yap Pheng Geck and Chew Kia Song, who helped to build up the academic staff of the school with examination results to match.

This provided the background to ACS being admitted to the Aided School system in 1924 that meant, among other things, that students were to be within a certain age, and staff properly qualified.

But, the new ACS Principal, the Rev P. L. Peach, realised that many over-aged pupils and under-qualified teachers would have to find other arrangements. He believed that provision should be made for many students to continue with their education. Some were in their twenties and married.

ACCS was thus inaugurated in 1923 as a “second-chance” school, with classes first conducted in a building at the corner of Short Street and Middle Road, and then shifted to the ACS buildings at Coleman Street where they met in the afternoon under the headship of Mr R. Roche, an American graduate who taught in the upper classes of ACS.

In addition to absorbing staff and pupils, ACCS provided enlarged opportunities for foreign students from around the region, as well as from many other schools in Singapore.

The Rev E. S. Lau succeeded Mr Roche in 1930. ACCS continued to function successfully as an alternative route to the Junior and Senior Cambridge Examinations.

After the Japanese Occupation, ACCS continued much as it did before the outbreak of war, until it became an aided school in 1954, now renamed Oldham Methodist School (OMS) with Mr Yong Ngim Djin as Headmaster.

Eventually, OMS was absorbed into ACS. The pioneering effort at human resource development had been successfully inaugurated, and many of its students became successful professionals as well as businessmen.

Eight years ago, The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) similarly recognised the problem of quite a large number of students whose education in regular schools had to be curtailed for various reasons.

It was decided to accept the offer of the licence to operate a private school from Mrs Harriet Doraisamy. With this, her school became known as St Francis Methodist School (SFMS), run entirely by MCS without any government financial subvention.

Classes were begun in 1995 in two of the buildings of the old Methodist Girls’ School on Mt Sophia, and since then, the enrolment has grown to around 600, with about 65 per cent of the students from overseas. The school provides the usual subject options from Secondary 1 through Pre-University 2, in a number of examinations, including the “O” and “A” levels, and the (Australian) AUSMAT qualifications that open more doors to university education.

Since September 2001, the SFMS has operated in Upper Bukit Timah in new and well-appointed classes, science, IT and language laboratories, as well as a fine library – all situated in a campus shared with Trinity Theological College, the Methodist School of Music and the new sanctuary of the Bukit Panjang Methodist Church.

In a sense, the willingness to think out-of-the-box in 1923 which led to the inauguration of Anglo-Chinese Continuation School lives on through St Francis Methodist School.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.