Written and contributed
“Mr Ng was revolutionary in his way of teaching geometry”
In the year 1956, I was parachuted to Std V B and the classroom was located just below the main hall, one class room before the staircase. We were “blessed”: with a teacher called Mr Ng Pak Hing, who was a brother of my former class teacher Mr Ng York Hing in Std IIID. A ‘D’ class is not the end of the world for us 10-12 boys who were double promoted from Std I to Std III D. I can recall a few names like Lim Jit Teng, Yee Voon Chee, Leong Hoi Siew, Chin Yin Keong etc.
Ng Pak Hing is from the old school who believed in that the cane and academic improvement went hand in hand. Next door to us was Std V A, and they had a teacher who also believed in the cane. Next door, the penalty for one grammatical mistake was one cut (a bit severe). Readers can guess who the English teacher was.
My recollection of Ng Pak Hing is this: He tends to wear white shirt and white shorts with long socks (like Lo Mo). He always carried a cane with his right arm and a thermo-flask on the other hand. He parked his car in front of the main building. His voice resonated with a slightly high pitch (as if he was chronic cold catcher trying to clear his throat frequently).
Ng Pak Hing was a maths teacher and if my memory serves me right, he was good at geometry. His teaching technique could be considered revolutionary at that time (1950s). He was good at using self-invented teaching aid to illustrate his subject.
Fig 1. An Oxford instrument set owned by all ACS Boys in the 1950s and 60s with the famous logo (A) and the equipment in the box (C). With these instruments you can draw circles of given the radius or divided a straight line into equal length using the compass (B), measuring angles using the protractor (E), drawing angles or paralell lines using the set sequares (F), a pencil and a rubber (for pencil and ink) rubbing out your errors. Holes in the exercise book were frequently encountered when using the “ink” rubber. It was just a piece of rubberised sandpaper.
In those days, all students had an Oxford instrument box (cost $2.50) containing the following items: compass and a divider (both were excellent wood stabbers, our wooden desk was just the right material), 2 set squares hardly used them), a protractor (used often), a rubber etc. (see Figure 1). This ‘Oxford’ instrument box was standard equipment in ACS and it was compulsory to have one. We were taught how to use these instruments properly but we treated them as spearing toys.
I can only remember one interesting morning when Mr Ng Pak Hing decided to test us about angles, acute, obtuse etc. He would give you a piece of paper with two lines intersecting to form an angle with a question mark after the curved line between the two straight lines, and you are supposed to be able to use the protractor to measure the angle (an acute & obtuse one). It caught out those boys who did not pay attention to what was taught in the previous period. If you got it wrong, sorry boys, the penalty is one cut with his cane.
There were also tests on how you draw a parallel line, a circle, measure the radius or diameter of a circle as well as dissecting a line into equal length. Remember, one mistake was one cut. If you are smart, you pay attention.
There were also the “ambush” maths tests that occurred periodically. If you think you are off the hook when you score 85%, think again! Whoosh? You get one cut for making a silly mistake. In his class, there is only perfect score of 100% and not buts! No wonder we excelled in maths. In my case, I did score a levels in maths at secondary school and even ventured doing a Pure Maths II subject at university.
I think the A class boys next door to us, were word perfect in English whilst we were number perfect in Maths. But, what a way to learn.
Of course, at University, rote learning gives way to reasoning and analogue maths gives way to digital. These were difference in the way Maths was taught in the Western world compared to the rote learning exemplified by Chinese schools. Yet, Chinese school kids were much better at Maths (based on examination only) but they were not necessarily innovative in mathematical principles.
Although I do not subscribe to “cane” learning, I acknowledged that the teachers were well intentioned as they believed that their method was the correct one. I do not bear any grudges against these teachers because they wanted the best for us. On the contrary, I am grateful for their interest in our futures and for every successful students, there is a light glow of satisfaction and warmth feeling in their hearts.
Lest I forget, I must mention Mr Balacopal, another primary school Maths teacher. His famous utterance was “take care you rascals” and these words were preceded by “a whack on your back with his right palm”. Watch out if he was walking along the aisles between the desks at your left. If you were choked by chicken born or unable to expel your bronchial fluid, his whack was therapeutic.