CHIJ, one of the oldest girls’ schools in Singapore, celebrates 170 years, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

CHIJ, one of the oldest girls’ schools in Singapore, celebrates 170 years

When four Catholic nuns arrived in Singapore and established Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) in 1854, education for girls was still unheard of in many parts of the world.

The four Sisters established the school at the junction of Bras Basah Road and Victoria Street, and accepted girls from all financial backgrounds, including those who were orphans.

The second-oldest girls’ school in Singapore, CHIJ has since grown to 11 schools around the island today, educating generations of women.

CHIJ celebrated its 170th anniversary on May 20 at the Singapore Sports Hub, with around 16,000 staff and students and 1,600 former staff and alumni in attendance. Cardinal William Goh, who heads Singapore’s Catholic Church, conducted a special mass.

An album with 12 songs written by students, teachers and alumni from across the CHIJ family of schools was launched at the event.

Ms Vivienne Lim, chairwoman of the IJ board, said in a speech: “170 years ago, the idea of female education was revolutionary.”

The founders saw education not just as a right, but also as a “transformational force for good”, she added.

It is estimated that more than 200,000 girls have been educated in CHIJ schools in Singapore, Ms Lim said.

“A great number of IJ-educated girls have broken glass ceilings, taken the path less travelled, advocated for the voiceless and dedicated their lives in the service of others, especially the marginalised.”

CHIJ was declared a government-aided school in 1902, and began offering secondary education in 1909. CHIJ Secondary was first established in Victoria Street, before moving to Toa Payoh in 1983. It became autonomous in 2004.

Notable alumni of CHIJ include Singapore’s first chief minister David Marshall, academic and diplomat Chan Heng Chee and sprinter Shanti Pereira. At one point in its history, between the 1910s and 1930s, CHIJ took in boys.

Alumna Charmaine Seah took a day off to be at the 170th anniversary celebrations. She attended CHIJ (Katong) Primary and CHIJ Katong Convent before graduating in 1999.

Her daughters, now in Primary 1 and Primary 3, also attend CHIJ (Katong) Primary, despite the school not being located near their home. Her one-year-old daughter will also eventually go to the school.

“My mother was from Katong Convent as well... My mom wanted me to carry on her legacy. And I want to do the same with my daughters as well,” she said.

The 40-year-old video producer said CHIJ has fostered her love for drama, the arts and music. “It was really a place where I spent my most formative years and it shaped me to be the person I am today.”

She has fond memories of practising for songs and performances in class with her friends.

Mrs Tracey Hoa, who attended CHIJ schools from 1976 to 1985, said her fondest memories in school were those of playing softball with her friends, whom she keeps in touch with to this day.

Her mother, aunties and cousins also attended various CHIJ schools.

Mrs Hoa, 55, pursued her childhood dream to be a teacher and returned to CHIJ (Katong) Primary in 1998 to teach. She had studied at CHIJ Opera Estate Primary School, which merged with Katong Convent’s primary section to form CHIJ (Katong) Primary in 1990.

“It’s really like coming home,” she said, as her former teachers became her colleagues. “It was deja vu. The canteen vendors were the same. The bookshop personnel were the same. People who clean the school are still the same.”

As a teacher, she feels a sense of fulfilment when teaching disadvantaged students who open up to her. “The IJ dream has always been to develop the whole person – to nurture girls with compassion, selflessness and resilience.”

She added: “The mark of an IJ girl is the fact that she’s articulate, she’s able to hold her ground, she’s able to rise over adversity and always contribute to society, no matter big or small.”