Reflections from the First IB Batch I: Chris Cheong


Recently, we interviewed Chris Cheong, a student from the first IB batch since ACS(I) was recognised as an IB World School in 2005. In this insightful interview, we find out more about what school life was like more than a decade back! Check out the second part of the interview here.


What made you choose to take IB despite the tried-and-tested “A” level route?

It wasn’t just not taking the tried-and-tested “A” level route, but it was also the first time that students were allowed to move on to JC education without needing to take the “O” level examinations (Through train / Integrated Programme).

The school sold the programme as a broad based, more holistic alternative to the traditional focused and narrow “A” level programme. Not everyone was keen on the idea though – some classmates did transfer to RI to take the “A” levels either after year 2 or year 4, and some also transferred in from the Raffles schools to join us before year 5 commenced too.


How did it feel like to be part of the pioneer batch of IB students?

It was a great adventure, everyone was just looking to explore new frontiers, and pushing boundaries. Some teachers had taught us from Year 1 or 2, and thus had known us for many years, and really gave us a wide berth and a lot of space to explore, create and build.


What mark did the first batch leave on the school?

Physically? Probably some broken tables, football stains on the walls, and there’s a sort-of-mural on the wall in the new block near the SAC.

The initial target for our batch was 36 points, as it would have enabled most students to get into most courses top universities in the world. After the Y6 prelims, the target was revised upwards to 38 as the teachers were becoming slightly more confident…. I guess the rest is history!


Current batches had much to owe to their predecessors through past year papers, past year EEs, teachers with years of experience – what was it like studying without such help?

Fortunately we did have some teachers who had previously taught the IB in schools such as UWC, and were able to advise us accordingly. However most of our teachers essentially moved up with us, transitioning from teaching secondary school students to IB students. They had to go through many training courses and workshops to learn to teach the IB. We were fortunate to have some extremely talented teachers back then (the vast majority who have since left).

Additionally, there were question-banks with many years’ worth of past year IB paper questions, so we did have past year papers! Of course the subjects with more… predictable styles such as the math and sciences fared better, and the more subjective ones such as English A1 (now known as Literature – Lang Lit didn’t exist then, everyone had to do Lit) and TOK had a rougher time back then.

If all that didn’t suffice, we were also able to find other schools’ notes and teaching materials online, and even the IB ‘Bible” – the Vade Mecum. If we didn’t have confidence in what we were told, we could always go check it for ourselves.


You’ve come back to school on more than one occasion – how has it changed?

There used to be two eagle statues – one in front of the space frame and one in the foyer facing the Astroturf. These seem to have mysteriously disappeared!

There used to be a LAN gaming centre in the glass-enclosed classroom on the level above the SAC, but that seems to have been re-purposed to be a classroom! The rationale then was that since students were going to visit LAN shops anyway, it would be better for them to game in school, in a safe(r) and controlled environment, than run the risk of being exposed to bad hats outside. This was in the days before everyone had high speed broadband access at home.

Most noticeably, an apartment block – the New Boarding School – has sprung up on the area where there formerly were two concrete football/basketball courts!

Some things have not changed however – the IB block fountain/water feature still doesn’t work…


Which teachers do you still remember from your time in ACS(I)?

There were many great teachers whom I had the privilege of interacting with:

Dr Alistair Chew, who’s now the director at Findings Education mentored students in 4 different subjects for EE (Chemistry, History, Economics and Lit) whilst teaching Chemistry and TOK! Mrs Mervyln Goh and her incredibly insightful yet spontaneous lessons were a treat, and a lesson that you don’t have to script or micromanage every aspect of a lesson or talk…

Mr Terence Chiew’s David Copperfield videos that he’d play at the start of every physics lesson and his attempts to match our puns and witty repartee were well received, on top of being able to explain concepts in many different and creative ways…

Mr Desmond Yap’s sarcasm and biting remarks masked his care and concern for his students, and he was a very effective math teacher too!


Do you regret taking up the IB?

Definitely not! Many things which I learnt then, have come back in strange ways in the years after leaving AC….

Many of us went overseas to study, and travelled extensively (on budget airlines / staying in hostels etc) – on many occasions, things studied in Geography or History textbooks come alive, and exist right in front of you. For example, visiting the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg, seeing ox-bow lakes and horseshoe bends… Many of my friends and I found that we only “got” Lit after leaving school, spotting structure, symbols, literary devices subconsciously and being very aware of their effect in various books or even films!


This year, the 10th batch of IB students will be graduating – how has life changed since you left AC a decade ago and what did and didn’t turn out as you expected?

Some batch mates have gotten married – some have kids, many started work (and discovered it’s a whole new ball game to whatever has come before), started businesses and social enterprises, embarked on second careers, or are having their quarter life crisis! Some are on their second bachelors, masters or PhD programmes… and some have also left us forever.


Any advice you would like to give to your juniors who are experiencing IB in the present or future?

Whilst the academic side may look very daunting and you may face pressure to get your 42, don’t focus all your attention and time on studying at the expense of really living as a student. Build, enjoy and maintain your friendships – it may be the last time you’d have such constant close contact with classmates and be able to build and forge such strong ties. (Some courses in university have about 10 hours of lectures/tutorials a week)

Really take time to create or build something, explore interests, do stupid things with your friends and all that – these are the things that you’d remember after you leave school (not really the lessons!), and some experimental ideas may just gestate and blossom in the years ahead.

There are former students who went back to the villages that they had visited whilst on WOW as part of habitat for humanity or doctors without borders to continue the work started when they were in Year 5, some who developed their CAS projects into business start-ups, professionalised their CCA activities and more.


Any more memories from your time in IB that you would like to share?

Some people would go into the IB block pond and rearrange the more lightly-coloured stones to spell out messages randomly each day…

There’s a time capsule buried somewhere on the grounds – Go find it!


Chris Cheong is from the graduating batch of 2007.

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