Mdm Hsu Phillips was a prominent educator with the Ministry of Education (MOE) for about 37 years. Among her contributions, she once served as principals for both Thomson Primary School and Lee Kuo Chuan School simultaneously, before merging them together to form Lee Kuo Chuan Primary School.
After her retirement in 1993, she has been active with the RSVP, or The Organisation of Retired & Senior Volunteer Programme (Singapore), serving once as its board member and also as the chairman of Chinese section from 2008 to 2010. In addition, she has been awarded the Public Service Medal in 2000.
Mdm Hsu was recommended by the Singapore Chinese Teachers’ Union (SCTU) to the National Library Board (NLB) for memory interview as part of the Singapore Memory Project. In this interview, Mdm Hsu shared with us about her reflections, childhood memories, growing up in Singapore and her journey in the education sector.
Mdm Hsu Phillips was born in Singapore in 1933. Her father was a principal and her mother a teacher in Tai Tong school in Pontian, Malaya. Together with her siblings, they studied in that school and resided with the family in the school dormitory. During the Japanese invasion to China, some Chinese in Malaya and Singapore were very passionate and raised funds to support the Chinese government in their resistance against Japanese invasion. Her father also helped in the fund-raising, and sometimes gave speeches to explain to his students about their duty to their motherland, and the atrocities of the Japanese. After Malaya fell to the Japanese, they found out that her father knew how to play violin and forced him playing Japanese anthem to students during school assembly even he was very unwilling to do it. In order to avoid such incidents happened repeatedly thus cause misunderstanding by the local people, the whole family had to flee to another town in Malaya, Mdm Hsu recalled.
In 1948, Mdm Hsu came to Singapore alone to study at Nanyang Girls’ High School. However, her family only came to Singapore one year later when her father was invited to be the principal of Zhenghua Primary School. Two years later, her father took up the post of principal of Ai Tong School at the invitation of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan until his retirement in 1972. During his twenty-year service in Ai Tong School, he laid the foundation that enabled it to become one of the most regarded primary schools it is today.
Mdm Hsu completed her Senior Middle III education in Nan Chiau Girls’ High School in 1953. She then followed her parents’ footsteps by enrolling in the Teachers’ Training College, where she graduated in 1955. She first taught in Tow Chow Primary School. Most of the students there were from lower income and dialect-speaking families and were hyperactive and disobedient. Despite this, their parents were very respectful of teachers. Mdm Hsu recalled that a few parents even brought canes to teachers to discipline their children for misbehavior, disobedience or not doing their home work. However, Mdm Hsu always tried her best to ensure that her students learnt to the best of their abilities; and she mentioned that the joy and satisfaction of teaching is to see her students made improvement not only in their studies but also in their conduct.
Because of her outstanding performance in teaching, Mdm Hsu was promoted to become the principal of Pearl Bank School in 1972. She was later transferred to head both Thomson Primary School and Lee Kuo Chuan School simultaneously in July 1984. Besides being the principal, she was also instructed by the Ministry of Education to merge the two schools at the end of that year. The two schools were eventually merged as Lee Kuo Chuan Primary School and moved to a new school building in Ah Hood Road. Mdm Hsu served as the principal of the new school until her retirement in 1993.
Apart from her leadership role, Mdm Hsu had also compiled music and moral education textbooks for primary schools. Notably, there was no available standard music and moral education textbooks for primary schools in those days. Her textbooks were then approved by the Ministry of Education, and were gradually adopted by the majority of primary schools nation-wide.
Mdm Hsu strongly believes the importance of moral education for children and youths. She hopes that a more robust moral education could be developed to inculcate our students to, amongst other things, respect each other and seniors in particular and to have a greater sense of responsibility for our society.
(Interviewed and written by Tan Pengshi Alvin of the National Library Board)