Mention Pasir Panjang, and the impression that comes to mind is that it is now a busy strip of land occupied by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) Container Terminals, Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and the rows of warehouses, offices and industrial buildings.
However, before development, Pasir Panjang was largely a place made up of kampongs and rural school. In fact, there were four schools existed at this southern part of Singapore that provided necessary primary and secondary educations to the students living at Kampong Batu Berlayar, Kampong Sultan, Buona Vista Village, Kampong Jagoh and Heap Guan Village. The schools were mostly built in the fifties, and lasted until the eighties and nineties when the declining student enrolment led to their eventual closure.
Batu Berlayar School (1950s-1982)/Former NTUC Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre
Along Pasir Panjang Road currently stands an old vacant building that previously housed the former Batu Berlayar School and, later, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre. Its name literally means “sailing rock” in Malay, a reference to the Dragon Teeth’s Gate (“Long Ya Men” 龙牙门) that stood at Keppel passageway and were used as navigation aids for boats that visited Singapore before the 19th century. In 1848, the rocks were demolished with explosives by the British to widen the water passageway allowing the larger vessels to pass through.
Batu Berlayar School was opened until 1982, when it was shut down due to low student enrolment. It was left empty for a few years before taken over by NTUC Comfort as a training centre for its taxi drivers. It was officially opened as its new Pasir Panjang branch in July 1987 by the former Second Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Ong Teng Cheong.
Other events were regularly organised at the building compound for the benefits of its NTUC Comfort members. In 1987, a week-long Taxi Audio Equipment Fair was held at the centre, with a wide range of cassette-radios for the taxi drivers to choose and install in their vehicles. Auctions and sales of scrapped taxis, in the models of Toyota and Datsun, were also opened to interested parties.
After the NTUC Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre was shut down, the building was leased in the late nineties and early 2000s to Montessori Centre, a private school that offered Montessori education to young children. It was eventually returned to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and has been left vacant till today.
The Centre of Animal Welfare and Control, owned by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore’s (AVA), currently stands a lane away from the former NTUC Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre. It was previously the Pasir Panjang Polyclinic, before the premises was leased to AVA in 1995. Its location was also the former site of the famous salt-water Haw Par Swimming Pool between the 1930s and the late fifties.
With its 20-year lease ending at end-2015, the animal welfare centre is expected to be relocated to Sungei Tengah.
Pasir Panjang Primary School (1930s-1986)
Situated between Jalan Mat Jambol and Yew Siang Road, off Pasir Panjang Road 5th Milestone, the former Pasir Panjang Primary School was one of the earliest schools established at Pasir Panjang. It started as Pasir Panjang English School, a co-education experiment proposed by the British government to have a mixture of boys and girls studying in the same elementary school. The co-education, also implemented among the Chinese, Malay and Indian students at Serangoon English School and Bukit Panjang English School in 1936, was considerably successful. As reported by the newspapers, the co-education:
“does not make boys effeminate, but gives them a sense of duty and polish, and makes the girls happier by removing an element of pettiness often evident in a class composed entirely of girls.“
During the imminent Japanese invasion in 1941, the records of Outram School, under the orders of the Education Department, were transferred to Pasir Panjang English School for safe keeping. Unfortunately, the school was hit by the bombings during the invasion, resulting in the total destruction of all the records of Outram School between 1906 and 1941.
In the fifties and sixties, Pasir Panjang Primary School produced many outstanding students. The most prominent ones were Goh Chok Tong, the second Prime Minister of Singapore (1990-2004), Dr Tan Eng Liang, the Senior Minister of State for National Development (1975-1978), and Dr Cham Tao Soon, the founding President of Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI) (1981-1990) and President of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) (1991-2002).
Other prominent figures include Tan Hwee Hock, the primary school teacher of Goh Chok Tong in the fifties and former member of the Gold Medal winning water polo team in the 1954 Asian Games, and Edwin Nadason Thumboo, the unofficial poet laureate of Singapore.
In the fifties, the teachers would regularly provide swimming lessons for the Pasir Panjang Primary School students at the Haw Par Swimming Pool, located on the opposite of Pasir Panjang Road. When Pasir Panjang Primary School was shut down in 1986, all of its remaining students were transferred to Jagoh Primary School. The premises was later used as a drug rehabilitation centre named Breakthrough Missions.
Pasir Panjang Secondary School (1955-1996)
Another former school in this vicinity was Pasir Panjang Secondary School, one of the few secondary schools that were built at this southern part of Singapore. Pasir Panjang Secondary School was established in 1955, first sharing the premises with Alexandra Estate Secondary School until it moved to its new building at Pasir Panjang in 1958. The secondary school, mostly made up of Malay students living at the nearby villages, had functioned for almost 40 years at Pasir Panjang until its closure in 1996.
An interesting trivia of Pasir Panjang Secondary School was the design of its school crest that consisted of a lion and three fish. The lion symbolised Singapore, while the three fish represented duyong, which means “mermaid” in Malay but is actually a marine mammal named dugong that could previously be found at the waters off Pasir Panjang. Portrayed as courageous and determined animals that were not afraid of the fiercest storms, the duyongs were inspirational symbols for the students studying at Pasir Panjang Secondary School. They were also mentioned in the school’s anthem:
“As the duyong rides up storm, so shall we face
The future with zest and steadfast enterprise.“
and was used as the name of the school’s scout group in the sixties.
In 1987, Pasir Panjang Secondary School’s student enrolment fell to only 575, way below the average of 1,200 in other secondary schools. The continuous declining number in the enrolment led to its eventual closure in 1996. After its closure, the school premises was left empty for several years before being converted into a Ministry of Education (MOE) Adventure Centre.
Labrador Primary School (1961-1989)
The former Labrador Primary School, standing next to the NTUC Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre, existed between 1961 and 1989. Like the Pasir Panjang Secondary School, the primary school was enrolled by many Malay students living nearby, although it did provide four main streams in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. Built at a cost of $350,000, the four-storey building with 24 classrooms was officially opened on 28 October 1961.
By the late eighties, the number of students at Labrador Primary School had dropped to only 172, and the government decided to close it in January 1989. Like the Pasir Panjang Primary School students, the last batches of the Labrador Primary School students were transferred to Jagoh Primary School.
The premises of the former Labrador Primary School was not left empty for long. Six months after its closure in January 1989, it was re-opened to serve as a temporary campus for the Singapore Polytechnic’s Business Administration faculty, which required additional space due to a large jump in the number of course applicants. Shuttle bus services were specially catered to ferry the students from the main campus at Dover Road to Pasir Panjang.
Today, the former Labrador Primary School building is leased to the Philippines Bayanihan Society.
Published: 21 June 2015