Tao Nan School

Tao Nan School is probably the most popular primary school in the District 15. With rich heritage, top ranking and reputation, it has been sought after by parents who seeks to volunteer in the school or register a residence within 1 km of the neighbourhood. Below is an excerpt of the history behind this well known Singapore education institute.

 

Tao NanTaonan school map

Excerpt from Infopedia

 

One of Singapore’s oldest primary schools, Tao Nan School was established on 18 November 1906 with financing from the Hokkien Huay Kuan. It was the one of the first six modern Chinese schools to be set up in Singapore. Originally located at an ornate building at Armenian Street, the school moved to the Marine Parade neighbourhood in 1982. The original school building at Armenian Street now houses the Peranakan Museum.

 

Early history
The establishment of Tao Nan School was initiated by Tan Boo Liat, great-grandson of entrepreneur and philanthropist Tan Tock Seng. It gained support from Hokkien merchants and was aided by the Singapore Hokkien Association (Hokkien Huay Kuan). Chen Baochen, purportedly a tutor of the last Qing Emperor Puyi, was credited with naming the school Daonan Xuetang or “Tao Nan Study Hall”. Tan Kim Ching’s residence at Siam House, opposite St Andrew’s Cathedral along North Bridge Road, served as the temporary location of the school. The first enrolments numbered between 90 and 100 students but this number tripled within the first three months.

 

Initially admitting only Hokkien students, in 1909 Tao Nan became the first modern Chinese school in Singapore to accept students from different dialect groups in order to increase cohesiveness within the Chinese community. Its curriculum was aimed at promoting Chinese culture and appreciating Chinese values, with lesson centred on Confucian classics, history and geography. In 1916, it became the first school to turn away from dialects and use Mandarin as the medium of instruction.

 

Tao Nan School
Construction of a school building was proposed by industrialist Tan Kah Kee. A plot of land at Armenian Street was purchased with $10,000 donated by sugar baron Oei Tiong Ham in 1910. As President of the School Board, Tan Kah Kee embarked on a donation drive to finance the building project. The drive raised $40,000. The neoclassical school building with features of the French Renaissance was completed in March 1912. The school moved from North Bridge Road to Armenian Street and was renamed Daonan Xuexiao or “Tao Nan School”, according to a directive from China’s Ministry of Education.

 

English lessons were introduced in 1914. The school subsequently changed its medium of instruction to Mandarin in 1916, making it the first school in Singapore to turn from dialects. It was closed during the Japanese Occupation but was reopened two months after the Japanese surrender. It became a government-aided school in 1958 and improved its standard of English by hiring more English teachers and allotting more time to the subject.

 

In 1957, Tao Nan School became a government-aided school and the time allocation for English lessons was increased. The Urban Renewal Programme of 1971 moved numerous families from the city to the suburbs. This led to a decline in student population in Tao Nan until 1976, when the Hokkien Huay Kuan decided that Tao Nan be moved to the suburbs to cater to the population there.

 

Recent developments
Construction at the new site in Marine Parade began in 1980 and by the following year, the building was ready. After 76 years in the city, Tao Nan moved to Marine Parade in 1982. In 1983, the new school building was declared officially open by then Defence Minister Goh Chok Tong. In 1990, the school was selected for the Special Assistance Programme (SAP). Since then, it has established itself as a school providing a well-balanced Chinese and English education.

 

The original school building at Armenian Street was refurbished as the Asian Civilisation Museum in 1996. In 1998, the building was gazetted as a national monument by the Preservation of Monuments Board as a reflection of the social and cultural roots of early Chinese immigrants in Singapore. In 2005, the building was redeveloped to house the Peranakan Museum.

Tao Nan School graduates include prominent public figures such as philanthropist Lee Kong Chian and former Minister of State Ow Chin Hock. Pan Shou, Singapore’s award-winning Chinese calligrapher, was also an ex-principal at the old Tao Nan School.

 

Authors
Lim Siew Yeen & Renuka M.

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