Lawrence Wong: I chose non-elite school as family members and friends studied there

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Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong plays the guitar in a class with current Tanjong Katong Secondary School students during an interview with presenter Tung Soo Hua. (SCREENCAP: MeWatch)
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong takes a photo with current Tanjong Katong Secondary School students during an interview with presenter Tung Soo Hua. (SCREENCAP: MeWatch)

SINGAPORE — When Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawerence Wong was choosing a secondary school following his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) examinations, he was asked why he did not choose to go to a "so-called elite" school.

In a recent Mediacorp interview conducted in Mandarin, Wong said he opted to attend then Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School (TKSTS), which later became Tanjong Katong Secondary School, mainly because a number of his family members and friends studied there.

Wong, who later pursued overseas university education under a Public Service Commission scholarship, revealed that his PSLE scores were "not bad". He was responding to a question on his choice of secondary school given that people tend to think most government scholarship holders are from top schools.

Prior to studying at TKSTS, Wong, 49, had attended Haig Boys' School, where his mother was a teacher, for his primary school education, along with "all the boys in the family", including his elder brother and cousin.

"Everyone I knew from Haig Boys' – family and friends – chose Tanjong Katong, so I didn't have any other school in mind. I just made the same choice," he said in the fourth and final episode of Be My Guest season 4, which aired on Saturday (11 June) night on Channel 8.

Nonetheless, Wong, who was a student at TKSTS from 1985 to 1988, called it a "great decision". While it was a neighbourhood school near his home, "there's no doubt I got a great education", he said.

"Nowadays, we say this – every school is a good school. I guess I already comprehended the statement in the '80s," said Wong, who is also Finance Minister and the multi-ministry COVID-19 taskforce co-chair.

Wong, who was a prefect during his years there, eventually graduated top of his school's O-Level cohort and went on to study at Victoria Junior College.

The hour-long episode saw Wong being interviewed by news and current affairs presenter Tung Soo Hua.

During their visit to Wong's secondary school, he pointed to a wall of former students of TKSTS including himself and former minister Yaacob Ibrahim.

The duo had also participated in a brisk walking event in Limbang, one of the four divisions within the Marsiling-Yew Tee group representation constituency (GRC) where he is a Member of Parliament (MP).

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong's yearbook photo for Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School's graduating class of 1988. (SCREENCAP: MeWatch)
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong's yearbook photo for Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School's graduating class of 1988. (SCREENCAP: MeWatch)

Struggle with learning Mandarin

During the interview, Wong also spoke about his difficulties in learning Mandarin. He acknowledged that when he first got into politics, he rarely spoke in the language.

"It's been a big challenge for me since I was little. At home, my parents only spoke English and Malay. Dad grew up in Malaysia and my mum grew up in a Malay kampung in Singapore," he said.

"Surprisingly, my O-Level Chinese result was quite good, astonishing many classmates and my teacher."

He admitted his Mandarin proficiency worsened after he left junior college due to the lack of opportunities to use the language.

But since he entered politics, Wong said he has had many opportunities to speak to residents in Mandarin. Being the taskforce co-chair has also helped enable him to converse more in the language, he added.

"I can read out a written speech in Mandarin without trouble. But if you give me an impromptu speech, I am going to need more time to practise and prepare for it. I have to work hard for it," he said.

But the efforts to improve his Mandarin were "worth it" as it allows him to better communicate with more Singaporeans.

"I hope I will continue to improve. I hope more parents will encourage their children to learn Mandarin, so then they will understand Chinese traditions and cultures better," Wong said.

He stressed that the focus of education should not be on academic results, but on holistic development, such as leadership skills.

Wong hopes that Singapore's educational system will evolve to help lessen the stress of examinations for students. "It is good enough to do your best. Most importantly, continue to work hard, improve and learn. You are never too old to learn," said the former Education Minister.

According to Tung, the filming of the episode took more than a month. During the filming of the last scene, Wong had already become the leader of the People's Action Party (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) team, she added.

On 14 April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Wong was chosen to head the 4G team. Lee followed with an announcement on 6 June that Wong will be Deputy Prime Minister from 13 June.

Viewers can catch the episode on meWATCH and Mediacorp Entertainment's YouTube channel.

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