by Tan Yong Soon (RI’71)

Mr Hector Chee, 81 years old, spends his time these days observing his surroundings and taking care of his health. From the 60s to the 80s, he was a Mathematics teacher in RI who constantly sought out the best Mathematics teaching methods and thinking tools for his students to understand the subject and ace their GCE O-Levels. Towards the end of the 60s, he found out that while Singaporeans were studying Elementary Mathematics Syllabus B (also known as Traditional Mathematics) some students in the United Kingdom were taking the new Syllabus C (also known as Modern Mathematics). He saw the merits of the new syllabus and had faith that he could teach it, and that his students could grasp the new concepts.

Yet, Mr Hector Chee was also shrewd enough to understand that he needed early success for buy-ins. Hence he piloted the new syllabus with a small student population. He managed to persuade RI and MOE to allow him to pilot the new syllabus C with two classes in RI in 1968. Every one of those students scored an A1 in their ‘O’ Level Modern Mathematics in 1969. When I entered Secondary 3 in 1970, my class was still one of only two classes in Singapore being taught the new Mathematics syllabus and we were the third batch of students to take the Syllabus C in our ‘O’ Level in 1971. Our whole class also scored A1! As a result of his success, the entire RI switched to the new Mathematics syllabus a couple of years later and many other Singapore schools soon followed.

‘I was in the pioneer batch of Modern Maths Syllabus C students and, like the other 69 students, was convinced by him that it was an option worth taking.
As there was no precedent to go by, he initiated a lot of group project work for us, each group setting questions for the other groups to solve. 

He had a very easy teaching style, and it was quite easy to follow what he said. He could capture our attention by exciting us with the new concepts in Modern Maths and appealing to our ‘pioneer’ status.

He must have taught thousands of students, and yet he can recognise most of us when we meet him—usually at ORA annual dinners or at the class reunions that we organize now and then and which he always tries his best to attend.

He is a teacher whom we respect, but not fear, and whom we can relate to and communicate with at ease even many years after we left school.’

– Wong Kai Yeng (RI’71)

The new syllabus allowed Mr Chee to introduce many novel concepts that made Mathematics interesting and relevant. Mathematics, as taught by him, came alive and was never boring. A former classmate of mine, Teo Jwee Liang, who is currently the Chief Investment Officer of SMU, shared ‘I don’t recall ever feeling sleepy when listening to him. We enjoyed his classes, his light-hearted way of explaining Mathematical concepts’.

‘I remember we learnt that 1+1 is not always 2. It could be 10 if we count in binary. And that made Modern Mathematics exclusive and a lot of fun as we waited to learn more new concepts,’ recalled another former classmate, Francis Yeoh, former Chief Executive Officer of National Research Foundation.

I myself remember being first introduced to set theory, Venn diagrams and matrices in Mr Chee’s class; and have continued to apply these concepts to solve and understand many daily problems, even today. I believe that through his teaching, many of us improved our logical and creative thinking too.

Mr Chee constantly challenged us with difficult problems he had sourced from various places, including those set by the UK examination boards. He also asked us to help him vet the answers to questions he had set for the new Mathematics textbook he was writing then. We enjoyed the challenge of solving problems without having a model answer we could use to check if we were correct. Sometimes, we suspected that he himself wasn’t sure of the answer, so we had to rely on ourselves, be confident that we had applied the concepts correctly and that we had gotten our answers right. This motivated us to want to do even better. As Hoong Bee Lok, Senior Director Campus Development of SUTD remembers, ‘There were no ten-year-series papers to rely on. We did our best and often discussed the theories among ourselves. We worked through the sums together, the brighter students tutoring the ones who needed help. While Mr Chee explained to us the new theories, we also participated actively in solving the problems with him on the black board. There were times when Mr Chee got stuck in working out the answer and inadvertently, the bright sparks in class would chip in to unravel the complication’.

Hector Chee’s influence went beyond the classroom. We knew he cared for us and could consult him if we had a problem. Willie Tan, Auditor-General, recalls that, ‘Mr Chee was an outstanding educator with a heart for his students. I can vividly remember many of the concepts that he had taught us and patiently explained to us. When I returned to RI to collect my A-Level results, he specially walked over to enquire about how I did. I appreciated his kind gesture and still remember that conversation till this day’.

A number my former classmates also recall that he introduced us to the slide rule. In our time, students used a book of logarithm and trigonometric tables to compute the answers to math problems. The slide rule enabled us to reach the solution to multiplication, division and trigonometric functions much faster. This sounds pretty antiquated today as the slide rule is now obsolete, replaced by cheap electronic calculators which became readily available in the mid-70s. Soon after, Elementary Mathematics Syllabus D replaced Syllabus C and B. Nothing lasts forever.

RT4 Mr Hector Chee
Mr Hector Chee giving a speech during his Farewell Assembly in 1980.

I met Hector Chee at this year’s ORA dinner in the RI School Hall. He was his usual jovial self. I enquired about his health as he was walking with some difficulty even with the help of a walking cane. He said his leg had grown quite weak. He could no longer drive and had sold off his car earlier in the year. Other than that, he was doing fine.

At the dinner, I also met two former university mates, Wong Kai Yeng and Koh How Eng, who were, respectively, two years my senior and junior in RI and later, at university. I broached with them the idea of a scholarship for needy students in honour of Hector Chee over breakfast at the Amoy Street Hawker Centre a week later. They agreed that it is a worthwhile cause, and were prepared to help spearhead the donation drive with me. We brainstormed a little more. How Eng then sounded out the Principal (PRI), who was his RI classmate, and I arranged a simple lunch with Hector Chee and a few friends (all his former students) to get his agreement.

Kai Yeng, How Eng and I subsequently had a meeting with the management of RI to work out the details of the RI-Hector Chee Scholarship. We wanted the scholarship to reach out beyond RI and RGS, including those in express and normal streams—while it should ideally be extended to all schools, we decided that realistically, we should limit the schools to those within the South Seven School Cluster that RI is grouped under for a start. All scholarship recipients must be financially-deserving, and should show promise in Mathematics.

The challenge is to raise enough money to sustain the scholarship for a minimum period of years and we appeal to you to support the RI-Hector Chee Scholarship. Many of us have had great, good and even bad teachers when we were students. We want to remember and honour our great teachers and may choose to do so in different ways.

The RI-Hector Chee Scholarship is one way to remember a great teacher. As Jwee Liang tells me, ‘we want to honour Mr Hector Chee for pioneering the many “firsts” in RI’.

Yet it is not the only way, nor is Mr Chee the only great teacher. It would be wonderful if this scholarship initiative spurs others to come forward to honour their favourite teachers in a significant way. I hope it will also encourage many who do not know Mr Hector Chee personally to view this scholarship as a vehicle to help promising students in need of financial aid, and to donate to this scholarship as a way of remembering and honouring their own teachers.

© The article was written by Mr Tan Yong Soon (RI’71), former Permanent Secretary for National Climate Change in the Prime Minister’s Office.

RI-Hector Chee Scholarship

‘Mr Chee was the lead teacher who introduced to RI an innovative way to teach Maths and made a significant contribution there, and the topic of set theory and logic trained me in objective reasoning, a critical skill in life.

The Scholarship is meant for financially deserving students, supporting the principle of social mobility for students from lower income families who excel in school. We hope that Rafflesians will support the scholarship and the community.’

– Koh How Eng (RI’75)

All RI-Hector Chee scholarship recipients must be eligible for financial assistance provided by MOE for needy Singapore Citizen students. We are targeting a sustainable Scholarship to last at least 10 years. Two RI and two RGS students will receive the award at Year 3 level, which will be renewed annually till Year 6, subject to academic performance and financial circumstance.

As part of RI’s outreach efforts to the wider community, the school will also be giving out the awards to secondary school students in the S7 school cluster (which includes Bishan Park Secondary School, Guangyang Secondary School, Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School, Pierce Secondary School and Whitley Secondary School), 2 awards for each of the 3 streams -Express, Normal (Academic), as well as the Normal (Tech).

We will reach our fundraising target if we have 200 donors each with $2000. For donations of $10,000 and above, RI will inscribe the donor’s name on a wall plaque displayed in the School. Any donations of $100 and above will enjoy a tax deduction of 2.5 times the amount donated. No amount is too small and every dollar will help us reach our target. If we can raise more funds, the scholarship will be sustained for more years.

How to make your gift?
The Scholarship is administered by the School under the 1823 Fund. To make a gift, kindly fill up the gift form and mail it to RI with your cheque. Please make it out to ‘Raffles Institution’ and write ‘RI-Hector Chee Scholarship’ at the back of the cheque. You may also use the form to make your gift via credit card.

Auspicium Melioris Aevi

Tan Yong Soon (RI’71)
Wong Kai Yeng (RI’71)
Koh How Eng (RI’75)