A Flashback to Singapore 1982 Through Old Geography Textbooks (Part 1)

Like the good old Social Studies textbooks (see A Pictorial Gallery of Singapore in 1980), the old Secondary School Geography textbooks, first published by the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) in 1982, also contain a large variety of old photos portraying Singapore of the early eighties.

CDIS was established in 1979 to provide textbooks for Primary and Secondary levels of Singapore’s education system, replacing the old textbook schemes by the Ministry of Education (MOE) (1970-1978) and its former Education Publication Bureau (EPB) (1965-1969). In 1996, CDIS was officially ceased, after the new Curriculum Planning and Development Division took over the role to prepare the syllabuses and authorize the quality and prices of textbooks.

old cdis geography textbooks

Its Part 1 (for Secondary One students) mainly touches on Singapore’s rural and urban landscapes, urban renewal and conservation, as well as Singapore’s residential, industrial and agricultural developments. Through the photo gallery, one can easily notice the large changes of Singapore in the past three decades.

Central Business District and Global City

The Central Business District (CBD) has always been Singapore’s centre of commercial activities, such as banking, insurance and wholesaling. As the volume of trade grew, the CBD expanded along the waterfront facing Collyer Quay and Clifford Pier, and it became known as the Golden Shoe in the eighties and nineties (today, the name Golden Shoe was seldom used, except of the double-storey hawker centre at Market Street).

1982 golden shoe

Over the years, the Central Area was expanded to include City Hall and the Orchard vicinities. Many shopping malls were also built along a stretch of Beach Road that later became known as the Golden Mile.

As the CBD continued to change and progress, there was a need to utilise the lands effectively. More urban renewal projects were launched to demolished the old buildings, replacing them with office towers and other skyscrapers. Parts of the coastal waters were also filled to enable the further expansion of the CBD.

1982 shenton way

1982 raffles city construction

In the eighties, Singapore became the world’s second largest port after the Netherlands’ Rotterdam. Between the sixties and eighties, Singapore’s trade grew so rapidly that by 1981, there were six gateways (Keppel Wharves, Container Terminal, Telok Ayer Wharves, Pasir Panjang Wharves, Sembawang Wharves and Jurong Port) to the Port of Singapore.

1982 singapore river godowns

1982 goods unloading at singapore river

In the late seventies, Singapore’s major imports and exports included telecommunication equipment, fabrics, ships and boats, electronic valves and crude rubber. But the largest imported and exported products were the crude petroleum and refined petroleum products that generated more than $10 billion in annual trade.

1982 port of singapore

1982 changi airport

The growth as the centre of air travel was essential as Singapore thrived to become a global city. In 1981, the new Changi Airport was officially opened after six years of construction, replacing the former Paya Lebar International Airport which had became over-congested by the seventies.

Singapore’s third international airport (after Kallang and Paya Lebar airports) was mostly built on reclaimed lands. The location was chosen to be away from the populated areas in order to avoid the issues of noise pollution and traffic congestion. Domestic travelling was made convenient as new highways such as the East Coast Parkway (ECP) and Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) were linked to the airport; the travel time between the city and the airport was only twenty minutes.

Residential Development and New Towns

1982 singapore hdb estates

One of the maps used in the textbook displays the locations of the housing estates in Singapore in 1982. Newer housing estates such as Choa Chu Kang, Bishan, Pasir Ris, Sengkang and Punggol were not listed as they have not yet slated for modern residential development.

By 1980, almost 358,000 flats were built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to accommodate 75% of the 2.5 million residents in Singapore.

1982 malay kampong

1982 chinese village

In 1982, many villages still existed in areas such as Lim Chu Kang, Yio Chu Kang and Punggol. Fast forward 30 years, all kampongs on mainland Singapore had vanished with the exception of Kampong Lorong Buangkok, which is increasingly threatened by urban development in its surroundings in recent years.

The old shophouses, on the other hand, have better fates. Although many could not escape demolition during the urban renewal projects carried out in the sixties and seventies, a large number of shophouses have been retained and restored, especially at designated areas in Geylang, Tanjong Pagar, Little India and Joo Chiat.

1982 geylang shophouses

1982 singapore new towns

In the sixties, public housing districts, such as Queenstown, Redhill, Tiong Bahru and Farrer Park, were mostly located near the Central Area. By the early seventies, there was a need to build new housing estates in the outer regions that were 10km away from the city. The housing estates were developed into full-fledged new towns that contained flats, a variety of public amenities and flatted factories.

Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Clementi were the three earliest new towns to be developed in Singapore. By 1982, six more new towns were planned and developed. They were Woodlands, Yishun, Tampines, Hougang, Jurong East and Jurong West.

1982 clementi new town

1982 clementi playground

Each new town came with a town centre that acted as its commercial, social and transport centre. The new towns were divided into several neighbourhoods that consisted of residential precincts, small malls, retails shops and eating houses. A mature neighbourhood would also featured schools, markets and hawker centres.

1982 singapore urban landscape

1982 woodlands town garden

Agriculture in Singapore

In the early eighties, the main agricultural activities in Singapore were pig and poultry rearing, vegetable farming and flowers cultivation. In 1980, the four activities generated more than $500 million in revenue. The total land area that was devoted to agriculture, however, was small. At 90 square km, it stood only 14.5% of Singapore’s total land area.

1982 singapore agriculture areas

1982 singapore pig and chicken farms

More than 1 million pigs were sent to the abattoir in 1980, and the total output from the poultry farms was 32 million chickens and 550 million eggs. The large output ensured Singapore was more than self-sufficient in pork, poultry and eggs.

The pollution caused by the pig waste, however, led to the government’s policy to phase out the pig farms in the mid-eighties. By 1988, all of the pig farms in Singapore were shut down. Poultry farms were allowed to continue, but most were downsized and generally confined to Lim Chu Kang areas.

1982 punggol primary production department

Also see A Flashback to Singapore 1982 Through Old Geography Textbooks (Part 2).

Published: 13 September 2014

Updated: 29 September 2014

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13 Responses to A Flashback to Singapore 1982 Through Old Geography Textbooks (Part 1)

  1. Reblogged this on old world underground and commented:
    I remember those Geography books! And I miss the old school playgrounds!

  2. thechengying says:

    Reblogged this on thy conversation and commented:
    Remembering the geography curriculum of the past, remembering Singapore! Intensely fascinating. I compare this to what students are studying today for Geography – the content is definitely broader in terms of scope, the language used is probably more dense, and there are difficult concepts to grapple with. Yet, there is a certain beauty in these textbooks of the 1980s which is also reflected in the syllabus today. I think it is the beauty of Geography. Not only is this a testimony to how far Geographical education has changed across the decades, it also reminds us of the unchanging importance of Geography itself 🙂

  3. Rachel Bok says:

    Reblogged this on territoreality and commented:
    Remembering Singapore through old Geography textbooks…

  4. Pat says:

    From post: “Fig. 20.6: Location of HDB estates, 1982. […] Newer housing estates such as Choa Chu Kang, Bishan, Boon Lay, Sengkang and Punggol were not listed as they have not yet slated for modern residential development.”

    Actually, the Boon Lay housing estate was more than a decade old by 1982 & hardly considered as one of the “newer” housing estates. Boon Lay & Taman Jurong (“Boon Lay Garden”, “Jurong Town”) already existed by the early 1970s — the oldest flats there were completed in 1971/72. These housing estates are not indicated on the 1982 map of “HDB estates”, because they were developed & maintained by Jurong Town Corporation (JTC).

    In contrast, the later-built HDB housing estates of Jurong West & Jurong East (duly indicated on the 1982 map) were still regarded as “babies” (ie. very new towns) even during the late 1980s.

    Other JTC-built housing estates in the Jurong district include Teban Gardens & Pandan Gardens, which came into existence by the mid-1970s. They housed local Malay residents displaced from the demolished Kampong Java Teban & Kampong Sungei Pandan, while Pandan Mangrove Reserve was undergoing reclamation & conversion into Pandan Reservoir between the late 1960s & early 1970s.

    However, the main reason why all of the aforementioned JTC housing estates were developed was to house the families of workers employed at the Jurong Industrial Estate. In fact, Teban Gardens alone had 2 blocks of 4-room flats (totalling 220 units) that were reserved exclusively for “foreign skilled industrial workers” & their families, largely from Taiwan, Hongkong, India, Malaysia & Indonesia.

    These 2 blocks (Blks 24 & 25), which were refurbished sometime during the late 1990s or early 2000s, are still there. Meanwhile, the remaining oldest blocks of 3-room flats (Blks 2–11, for former kampong dwellers) near Jurong Town Hall Road are currently being demolished.

    • Tan Heng Han says:

      I live in Blk 25 Teban Gardens but the HDB documents show that it is built in 1993.

      • Pat says:

        @ Tan Heng Han — Your HDB documents are misleading … 😉 Analogy: Someone underwent a makeover & then edited his birth certificate to reset his birth date to the day the makeover was completed. In actual fact, Blks 24 & 25 of Teban Gardens were already 12 years old when their makeover was done.

        Blks 24 & 25 (total: 220 units) were designed & built by JTC at the same time as Blks 30, 31, 32 & 41. These slab-blocks of 4-room flats were completed in 1981. (JTC handed over the management of Teban & Pandan Gardens to HDB in 1982. In Oct the following year, HDB started charging residents for parking, which used to be free under JTC’s management.)

        ST reported about a showroom flat that JTC set up at Teban Gardens Blks 24 & 25 in early 1982, when new residents started moving in. These 2 blocks — other than their foreign dwellers — were architecturally identical to their 4 sister blocks allocated to locals.

        * Flats for the Skilled (ST – 25 Feb 1982):
        EXCERPT: {{{ This is a Jurong Town Corporation flat, but it is not for rent. This showroom is the corporation’s way of enticing foreign skilled industrial workers and technicians into moving into the industrial estate. […] An applicant for a flat at blocks 24 and 25 in Teban Gardens must have a family nucleus or […] }}}

        * HDB Scheme for Expats (ST – 07 Apr 1981):
        {{{ The 220 JTC units in Teban Gardens in Jurong will be rented over the next few years to skilled workers in Jurong. At the moment, 97 units are occupied by workers from Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia. }}}

        Out of the aforementioned blocks, only the “special” Blks 24 & 25 were refurbished (note: NOT torn down & rebuilt) during the 1990s. The date on your HDB documents refers to when the refurbishment was completed & the 99-year lease “cleverly” reset. Chronological & structural-wise, Blks 24 & 25 are physically as old as Blks 30, 31, 32 & 41.

        * 4 Vacant HDB Blocks to be Upgraded under Pilot Phase (ST – 16 Dec 1989):
        {{{ The four blocks under the pilot phase are Blocks 24 and 25 in Teban Gardens Road […] and Blocks 318 and 321 in Woodlands Avenue 3. }}}

        * Work in Teban Gardens starts this month: HDB’s Pilot Scheme to Upgrade Flats (ST – 19 May 1991):
        {{{ Retrofitting works on two vacant Teban Gardens blocks m the pilot scheme of the Housing Board’s upgrading project begin this month. Blocks 24 and 25 are two of the four unoccupied buildings picked to test the methods […] }}}

        For additional reference, this page shows a list of archived news articles (Feb 1982 – May 1991) about Blks 24 & 25.

        After the refurbishment, Blks 24 & 25 were the first (& only blocks for at least 10 years thereafter) in Teban Gardens to enjoy lifts stopping on every floor. Before that, the sole lift-well was located at the centre of the slab-block, & the lifts only stopped at the 6th & 11th floors.

      • Singaporean says:

        I agree with Pat. The 1993 is just a date to indicate your 99-yrs lease (HDB). JTC built those flats, maybe with help of HDB.

    • Thanks Pat for your feedback.

      HDB took over the management of JTC flats in 1982, but it was probably not being reflected in the textbook. I have replaced Boon Lay with Simei, which was developed as a new town in the mid-eighties.

      • Pat says:

        @ Remember Singapore — Instead of Simei, you might wish to use Bukit Panjang, Pasir Ris or Sembawang new towns as examples of post-1982 modern HDB residential developments.

        Simei as an HDB precinct & some of its streets already existed by 1982. But Simei is not separately highlighted on the ‘Location of HDB Estates, 1982’ textbook-map or subsequent maps of HDB towns because from a geographic & concept-planning perspective, Simei is a precinct of Tampines New Town — as opposed to being a distinct HDB town by itself.

        * Tampines Link to Expressway (ST – 01 Sep 1982):
        {{{ The interchange at Simei Avenue/PIE and the roadworks for Simei Avenue […] have been completed […] }}}

        * Simei planned as part of Tampines, not separate town (ST – 08 Jan 1992):
        {{{ I REFER to the letter “Simei is big enough for a hospital, but too small for a market?” by Dr Tan Bin Seng (ST, Dec 25). All this while, Simei Estate has been planned as a neighbourhood of Tampines New Town […] }}}

        Below shows a 2012/13 zoomable map of residential estates developed by HDB ever since it was established:

        In modern-day maps of HDB towns, the former JTC housing estates of Boon Lay Garden & Taman Jurong are subsumed into (an enlarged) Jurong West, while Teban Gardens & Pandan Garden are subsumed into (an extended) Jurong East. But if one is familiar with their respective locations, one can still visually pick them out from the map.

  5. littlecorals says:

    Really enjoyed reading this post! I find that most geography textbooks now barely even touch on Singapore – talking instead about broader, more general themes. Wish I could read through some of these old textbooks!

  6. alansoh79 says:

    Oh yes yes! I remembered these Geography textbooks (although I don’t fare that well in the subject as I went up to upper secondary). LOL. I prefer History. 😀

  7. aaynoor says:

    Such a great post. Singapore looks so sophisticated now.

    Place Match Asia

  8. Jane Mickelborough says:

    I lived in Singapore in 1959-1960
    None of this looks remotely familiar!

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