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GESS History

GESS History

In 1885, a school was opened in some shophouses in Telok Ayer Street by Mr Gan Eng Seng to offer free education to the children of poor parents in the vicinity. It was called the Anglo-Chinese Free School, and in no way connected with the other Anglo-Chinese School founded a year later by the late Bishop W.F. Oldham.

No school perhaps has had a more distinguished array of personalities connected with it than Gan Eng Seng School. We learn that before it became a government school, it had on its Board of Trustees such names as Tan Keong Saik, Ho Yang Peng, Wee Theam Tew, Lee Cheng Yan, Chan Sze Jin, Wee Swee Teow, Song Ong Siang, and Dr. Lim Boon Keng.

In 1888, Gan Eng Seng School became an Aided School. It still owed much to the generosity of Mr Gan Eng Seng. When in 1889, the Government gave the school a site in Telok Ayer Street for a new building, it was Mr Gan Eng Seng who put up the building itself. On 4th April, 1893 the new building was opened by the Governor, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith.

English as well as Chinese were taught at Gan Eng Seng School until the founder’s death, when it became a purely English School. Then owing to financial difficulties, it no longer functioned as a free school, and for some time fees were charged.

In 1937 the Board of Trustees, owing to financial difficulties, was not in a position to carry out major and urgent repairs to the school premises. Therefore in the interest of the school, Gan Eng Seng became a Government school in 1938 after fifty years of useful work.

In 1939, the clouds were already beginning to darken not only over Gan Eng Seng School but over the whole world too. Plans for a new building, which was similar in style and size of Monk’s Hill School were completed and passed, but the construction of the new Gan Eng Seng School Building at Anson Road could not begin as the shadow of war soon halted developments of any kind.

In May, 1941, the older section of the school building – the two-storey block in Telok Ayer Street – was declared unsafe for occupation, and had to be abandoned.

Alternative accommodation was hard to find, but eventually the Education Department decided to house the school temporarily in the Sepoy Lines Malay School in Park Road, where it was given the morning session. There was still insufficient space, and the primary classes had to be accommodated in a section of Pearl’s Hill School close by.

When the school re-opened on 8th September, 1941, teachers and pupils settled down to their normal duties, quite unaware of the impending clouds of World War. On 5th September 1941, the school broke up for the Christmas vacation, but was destined not to meet again until four years and a half years later.

Soon after the outbreak of the war with Japan, the Sepoy Lines Malay School was requisitioned.

During the occupation, Gan Eng Seng School ceased to exist. With the liberation, attempts to resuscitate the school immediately were not successful. Many of the old members of the staff were assigned to other schools which were fortunate enough to be able to re-open . An attempt to re-open the school in the Japanese National School building in Waterloo Street was not successful at first, for an enterprising Chinese school was quick enough to act first by occupying the building, and meet and overcome objections afterwards.

When, however, the Outram School building was derequisitioned, it was found possible to accommodate Gan Eng Seng School too in the afternoon session. Soon the 13th May 1946, at the beginning of the second term, Gan Eng Seng School was finally re-opened, and the teachers who had been lent to Outram School returned to their own School.

Finally, exactly a year later, in May, 1947, the school succeeded in getting the Japanese School building in Waterloo Street where it functioned until 1951 when it shifted to Anson Road.Gan Eng Seng School is unique among the secondary schools in Singapore being the only one initiated, established and maintained by a local-born citizen with a gift of freehold property, buildings and adequate funds until his demise. Even the illustrious Raffles Institution, the older Mission and Communal Schools, e.g. St. Joseph’s Institution and Chung Cheng High School, pale into insignificance in this respect.

In 1986, the new Gan Eng Seng School was opened on a new site beside Keppel Railway Station and officially inaugurated on 12th July 1989The school’s founding site at Telok Ayer Street was designated as a national historical site by the National Heritage Board in 1997. The school is currently located at Henderson Road in Bukit Merah.


Year Events
  • Founded by Mr Gan Eng Seng and named Anglo- Chinese Free School
  • Became an ‘aided’ school and was totally financed by Mr Gan Eng Seng
  • Moved to a new site in Telok Ayer Street and officially opened by H.E. Sir Clement Smith, the Governor
  • Mr Gan Eng Seng passed away
  • The school was entrusted to a Board of Trustees comprising distinguished Singapore pioneers
  • The present Gan Eng Seng Dragon Scout Group was founded by Mr G.C.S Koch
  • Became a government school
  • Housed temporarily in Park Road and Pearl’s Hill
  • Closed for Christmas vacation (5 Dec) and resumed only four and half years later after WWII
  • Reopened using the premises of Outram School on 13th May
  • Occupied the former Japanese National School building (now the Stamford Arts Centre) in Waterloo Street and remained there until 1951
  • First school to set up Parent-Teacher Association on 29th May
  • Official opening of Anson Road campus by H.E. Governor of Singapore, Sir Franklin Gimson
  • Became a secondary school
  • The Old Students’ Association was launched
  • The GESS Old students’ Association (GESSOSA) was registered under the leadership of Dr Kiang Ai Kim
  • Admitted first batch of GCE A-Level students
  • Admitted first batch of 20 Pre-University girls
  • Established the School Advisory Committee (SAC)
  • Launch of school anthem by Mr R.C. Scharenguivel
  • Celebrated 95th anniversary on 22nd August
  • GESS participated at the Singapore Youth Festival and in the National Day celebrations in August
  • Admitted first cohort of girls into Secondary One
  • Official opening of the new school premises at Raebum Park Road on 12th July
  •  Terminated the Pre-University system
  • Reverted to its old name ‘Gan Eng Seng School’
  • Renamed School library to ‘The Percival Aroozoo library’
  • Chosen by MOE to pioneer the ‘Small Kindness Movement’
  • The school’s founding site at Telok Ayer Street was designated as a national historical site by the National Heritage Board
  • Official opening of the new school premises at 1 Henderson Road by the Education Minister, Rear Admiral Teo Chee Hean
  • Celebrated its 120th anniversary
  • Published a pictorial history book to document the school’s rich history and heritage
  • Celebrated 125th anniversary with Project ONWARD and a dinner graced by Second Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen
  • Celebrated its inaugural Founder’s Day on 9th March
  • Celebrated its 130th Anniversary with a Time Capsule ceremony on 3rd September
  • Launch of the GESSOSA Education Development Fund
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