Dr. Ang Beng Choo was a prominent educator with the Ministry of Education for 33 years. Among her contributions, she was instrumental in transforming the instructional materials compilation and teaching pedagogy of Chinese language in Singapore during her time.
After retirement, she has frequently been invited to give talks on personal development, marriage and family education. In addition, she also devotes her time in performing marriage solemnization as a volunteer deputy registrar of marriage. .
Dr. Ang 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, Dr. Ang shared with us about her childhood memories, growing up in Singapore and her journey in the education sector. She also imparted her insights on teaching and the issues faced by youths today.
Dr. Ang Beng Choo was born in Singapore in the 1940s. Both her parents were immigrants from China, and they settled in the Telok Ayer area, where they stayed on the second storey of a shophouse. A shophouse then consisted of three levels, providing accommodation for multiple families, usually a family on each level. Dr. Ang recalled that there was a strong ‘Kampong’ spirit among neighbours in the area; the adults knew each other while the children played in a group. Although Dr. Ang was the only child in the family, she never felt lonely because of her company of childhood friends in the neighbourhood. The children were very active and moved in and out of houses to play. Some of her close friends frequented her house to eat because her grandmother cooked very well. Children also went to school together in the vicinity. Most boys went to Ai Tong School, and girls to Chong Fu Girls’ School.
Education during that time was very traditional and teachers were highly respected. Parents gave teachers full trust in educating their children. When classes first began, some parents would even bring canes to teachers for disciplining their children. On their part, teachers would occasionally do home visits to understand about the family background of pupils and their lives outside school better. Dr. Ang believes that this partnership between parents and teachers was effective in giving children a good upbringing in their formative years.
After completing her secondary education at Nan Chiau Girl’s High School, Dr. Ang entered University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore) in 1961. However, at that time, her family encountered financial difficulties due to Konfrontasi, or the Indonesian-Malaysia Confrontation. Thus, Dr. Ang had to take a government bursary to complete her university education. Unknowingly, this turn of events would eventually set her on an illustrious journey in the education sector.
After graduating with an Honours degree in Chinese Language and Literature, Dr Ang began her teaching career at Dunman Integrated School which housed both English and Chinese streams under one roof. She was assigned to teach Chinese language and literature, History, Chinese and English translation in both language streams. At the start, her parents reminded her to put students’ benefits above all. She also loved teaching very much and took initiatives, for instance, amending mistakes in textbooks on her own. Some of her students were not interested in learning. Some, she recalled, were even involved in triad gangs. Unfazed, she shared with her students stories of great men to build up their confidence and advised them that mistakes in the past were bygones, and encouraged them to do their best. Gradually, a good rapport developed between her and her students. As a result, the students improved tremendously in their studies. She fondly remembered two incidents in the second year of her teaching. One was that all her students did well in the year-end examination on the subjects she taught, a big surprise to her principal and colleagues. Her students were even asked to re-sit the tests to ascertain no leakage of examination papers. The other was about a gold pendant which she always wore. One morning, it was robbed along a small lane near the school. Her students noticed its missing and asked her about it. One of her students got it back for her in the very afternoon. She concluded that if you developed a good rapport with your students, they would study hard for you and protect you from harm.
From her experiences, Dr. Ang believes that the best teaching methodologies are based on strong student-teacher relationship. Regardless of which teaching methods used, students will put in an extra effort in their studies if they respect and love their teachers. To achieve that, Dr. Ang recommends the use of praise and encouragement on students’ strengths and achievements to build up their confidence as everyone appreciates a pat on the back.
After teaching for about three years, Dr. Ang was posted to the Ministry of Education (MOE) as an Assistant Specialist Inspector for Chinese Language and Literature. Shortly after, she was awarded the East-West Centre Grant for Masters’ education in the University of Hawaii. She did a research on the Chinese language instructional materials and teaching methods with the objective of identifying their short-comings and possible rectifications. Upon returning in Singapore, she requested to lecture at Teachers’ Training College (now National Institute of Education) to put her research to