The Scientific Victorian
here is no record of any unofficial prewar student publication existing alongside The Victorian, the only official one at that time. It was only after the war that the V.I., with its swollen population of over-aged pupils and additional Standard Five classes, witnessed the student yearnings to write, inform and express. School records indicate that in 1952 the Junior Literary and Debating Society produced the Junior Orator for its members’ erudition. The Science and Mathematics Society also launched its Quack, a collection of scientific articles, that same year. Early the following year some enterprising boys in Standard 7C churned out their very own cyclostyled collection of articles and jokes called 7C Herald which they peddled to other classes. The Herald went defunct, however, after two issues when the school newspaper The V.I. Voice, with even more features and jokes for the same price of 20 cents, was born in mid-1953. The Voice became The Seladang in October of the same year.
The V.I. Scout troops, too, published their own newsletters, magazines and campfire song books in the fifties, with the First KL Group producing their annual King Scout magazine which appeared in fits and starts. The 1969 issue, edited by Yap Piang Kian - the 1967 Victorian editor - was filled with a wealth of details from boy scouts, seniors and rovers who submitted regular comprehensive reports. The masthead, designed by Wong Twee Juat, was printed professionally by Khee Meng Press but the content below was imprinted from stencils cut on an antique typewriter. Their rival Troop started the Second KL Gazette in 1953 which lapsed after a while, reincarnating in 1971 as the Second To None newsletter. After again lapsing in 1980, it was revived as a termly publication in 1985. In 1971 the enterprising Troop made and sold hundreds of their 139-page song books for a dollar each to scout and guide groups all over KL. Their own campfire magazine, The Apache, debuted in 1989 and survives to this day.
In 1970, another class publication saw the light of day when Leong Yoke Keen and Khong Teck Yee founded the eight-page tabloid 3-Easter, named after their class, Form 3 East (lower secondary classes were named after compass points in the Murugasu era). On the day of the inaugural issue, Yoke Keen slipped into school before anyone else, placed a cyclostyled copy on the desk of each 3 East boy, and then later extracted the price of the issue - five cents - from his classmates. His enterprise was realised with the full approval and encouragement of the teacher in charge, Mrs Chong Hong Chong. It was a typical example of how the ideas of V.I. boys and girls were allowed to see fruition in V.I. There was no prior vetting by Mrs Chong and no censorship; permission was freely given, and no questions were asked thereafter as well. Yoke Keen, an accountant today, is still enamoured with V.I. publishing and, adapting to the internet age, has founded the first V.I. e-zine, The Victorian Times, a slick multi-page production emailed by request to any Victorian. So, 35 years on, there lives - in cyberspace - a successor to his schoolboy 3-Easter. Meantime Teck Yee, now a pathologist, has gone on to publish something slightly more serious than that schoolboy tabloid - a book on pathology!
Three V.I. student publications stand out for their own specialized readership, their visions, the broad and consistent appeal of their content and the laudable annual efforts by their student publishers. It is hard enough for any school anywhere in the world to support even two publications but there was a short period in the nineteen sixties when FIVE publications - two official and three student – were produced and sold in the V.I.! The three non-official publications are now long gone and only the official ones remain.
It was inevitable and by 1953 the time was ripe. The Science and Maths Society was by then the largest and most prestigious society in the school. Founded in 1949 in the dying weeks of the headmastership of Mr F. Daniel, the school’s first and most famous science master, the Society’s membership now included all the science students from the Fourth Form and above. Its 1953 Post-School Certificate classes, now offering pure science subjects, were populated by pupils from the major boys and girls schools in Kuala Lumpur, Klang and Kajang, giving it breadth and depth of talent. Science was both the darling and the scourge of the fifties. It offered hope of dazzling inventions and consumer products that could cure new diseases, alleviate pain and boredom, transport people safer and faster, while simultaneously dangling the Damoclean sword of nuclear annihilation over the world. At the V.I. it was obvious its scientists took only the positive view. The Society’s annual science exhibitions at the end of the second term attracted and enthralled thousands of students from secondary schools in the Klang Valley. Regular film shows, quizzes and talks by local and visiting men of science added lustre to its reputation. It even produced its own publication, The Quack, a cyclostyled affair distributed internally amongst its membership.
The School newspaper, the V. I. Voice, had been launched in June of that year. Its Literary Editor was a science student, one Tay Chong Hai. He had earned his position through his unabashed love of writing, especially of poetry, submitting his efforts to the Singapore Standard, Young Malayans and other local publications. Even as the first issue of V. I. Voice was launched (incoporating his humorous short story of a fictitious fat boy Ah Fatt joining the V.I.), Chong Hai was already planning his exit to prepare for the birth of his very own brain child. A short announcement at the bottom of page three in the cyclostyled Voice went, "The Science and Mathematics Society will, this year, publish a magazine called The Scientific Victorian. All V.I. students, especially members of the above Society, are invited to send in their contributions – articles, problems, jokes, etc before 22nd June, 1953." The editorial Board was listed, with Tay Chong Hai as editor.
The new magazine, typeset at the local printers, most likely Khee Meng Press of High Street, was sold for a dollar a copy. It was also distributed in other schools, a leg up over The Victorian and The Seladang, which were essentially internal publications. By all accounts the new journal recovered its costs and made a profit. There were few science magazines in Malaya in that era. Sure there was Science Digest, some psychology magazines in the bookstores and then there was Scientific American (which inspired Scientific Victorian’s knockoff name) but the latter was prohibitive expensive and a tad too advanced for schoolboys. Of course there was Time magazine and Reader’s Digest with their occasional science articles. But V.I.'s own science journal, at a dollar a pop, met the limited budgets and assuaged the intellectual appetites of a legion of Malayan science students.
Its cover was designed by one "Ahmad M." and its central pictorial component incorporated elements of what was perceived to be "Science" then - a horse and pulley (looking suspiciously like something taken from one of Mr Daniel’s textbooks) obviously representing energy and, therefore, physics, while a rabbit, a leaf and a cross-section of a human head stood for biology. (There was no DNA molecule yet, as 1953 was precisely the year its form had been revealed and it would be a few years down the road before the iconic double helix became de rigueur for most science journal covers.) Scattered elsewhere in the cover, a pair of scales, a test tube, several flasks and retorts stood, presumably, for chemistry and a pair of compasses and calipers on a pattern of triangles signified mathematics.
Tay Chong Hai’s editorial began with the pronouncement that the Society’s Quack would now die "a natural death" and from its dust his Scientific Victorian had risen. He editorialized that science was the servant of mankind and that it was mankind, not science, that was the source of evil.
He ventured some interesting predictions that, seen in hindsight across half a century, were rather prescient for a schoolboy. "We shall not be surprised," declared Chong Hai, "to hear that men have reached the moon or Mars, that living cells can be synthesized, that weather can be controlled…" The first prediction has come true (sixteen years after he wrote it) while the others are being either being actively researched or seriously debated at the present moment.
Chong Hai then gave timely and - in hindsight, accurate - warning with regard to Malaya’s main export commodity of that era: "Synthetic rubber has long proved to be a strong rival to our rubber industries…. we cannot always rely on our rubber and tin for maintenance. A day, not very distant, will come when rubber and tin are exhausted or that they are no longer useful in any industries, then and only then, Malaya will face a certain slump. This can be averted if Malaya will now train up her young talents in various scientific pursuits." To that end, he promised, The Scientific Victorian would do its duty "by supplying the maximum scientific information to all its readers."
The Scientific Victorian’s inaugural issue carried congratulatory messages from the headmaster, Mr Dartford, and the Society’s president, Mr Gurnell, and - in its role as the Society’s official organ - its annual report in finer detail than the version in the school magazine. It could carry, as well, the glowing reports, section by section by each supervisor, on its popular science exhibition. It could also indulge in printing photos of its own managing committee and of the journal's own editorial board. In the early years it proudly splashed news - backed by photographs - of the success of its members leaving for futher studies, especially the large numbers heading south to the University of Malaya in Singapore and the growing numbers snaring prestigious scholarships to other Commonwealth countries.
Across the rest of the pages of the inaugural issue was a dazzling feast of some 20 scientific articles, two quizzes and a crossword puzzle contest (using science words). The articles ranged from Aspects of the Mechanics of Tennis to Mathematical Curiosities, from Corrosion to The Iron Lung, and from The Universe to New Wealth from Wood. In addition, there was a Believe it or Not feature as well as a Scientific Recreations section. Of course none of the articles contained original material but still the content reflected the efforts of intensive research in the well-stocked school library and the various libraries at the British Council, the USIS and the KL Book Club. Not that writing scientific articles was something new to V.I. boys. In the first few years of its existence, the Science and Maths Society actually required each aspiring applicant for membership to submit an essay on a science topic. Only when it was adjudged to be of a certain standard was the author admitted to the Society’s exalted membership rolls!
Interestingly, there was a short story featuring Ah Fatt, Chong Hai’s fat boy from The Seladang, recounting our hero’s escapades in the V.I. science lab. It was printed in pages 48 and 49; unfortunately, readers looking for it found the pages literally ripped off from every issue. The explanation came decades later from the author himself: Chong Hai, writing anonymously as "V.I. Columnist" as he did in The Seladang, had carelessly used the word "under" instead of "behind" in his concluding sentence of the story, giving a racy connotation to Ah Fatt’s actions, a faux pas that the V.I. Headmaster considered to be serious enough to order the story censored.
Chong Hai left for medical school in Singapore soon after the Scientific Victorian appeared, but not before donating two collections of his poems to the school library. The medical career of the first Scientific Victorian editor has been exemplarily dazzling. Dr Tay discovered a rare syndrome in 1971 associated with mental impairment, ichthyosis and brittle hair now known as IBIDS or "Tay’s Syndrome." In 1999, this Father of Rheumatology, as he is dubbed in Singapore, discovered yet another disease, a rheumatic condition now called Eosinophilic Arthritis.
The template he cast for The Scientific Victorian – a mix of quizzes, puzzles, and short articles in plain, non-jargon English covering the main disciplines of science and mathematics - proved a winning one. For almost two decades the journal rolled off the presses into the eager hands of thousands of readers in the V.I. and other K.L. schools.
Its editors and contributors have invariably been drawn from the ranks of the top science students. It was in the pages of The Scientific Victorian that many future doctors, scientists and academicians took their first tottering professional steps. To name a few, Ti Teow Kong (now a Professor of Surgery) mused about the Chinese concept of ‘heaty’ and ‘cooling’ foods in 1955 and, in the following year’s issue, future Electronics Engineering Professor Tan Hong Siang taught readers how to make a one-valve radio set. Chia Ah Bah described an algorithm on how to compute the day of the week for any given date; he later became a Professor of Statistics. Yeoh Peng Nam, a Professor of Pharmacology today, presciently wrote on Alcohol – Its Effects, while future doctors M. Jeyasingam and Gan Kwai wrote on leprosy and cancer respectively.
Wong Cheng Lim, a future nuclear radiologist, was already speculating on the implications of space medicine in 1961, the very year the first man orbited the earth. In the same issue, Tan Meng Hee, today a Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry, discussed the biological effects of radiation. Amiroel Rizal’s precocious article, The Defects of Certain Endocrene Glands in Man, sounded as if it was written by a medical student. And, indeed, Amiroel went on to read medicine and is now an orthopaedic surgeon. Chemical Engineer-to-be Chang Choong Kong presented an equation-studded study of the mechanisms of chemical reactions.
Yong Hoi Sen wrote a five-page report on an ecological trip to the Batu Caves, documenting in detail a survey of its fauna by a three-boy V.I. team. Not surprisingly, he is today a Professor of Zoology, author of the Animal volume of the Encyclopaedia of Malaysia and a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia. Amongst the eight species of flora and fauna named after him by his grateful students, from a beetle to a crab to a blood protozoan, is a mosquito - Topomyia Yongi - first discovered flitting in the forests of Hulu Gombak.
But not all material was speculation or prediction or summaries of other people’s writings. Some articles were actually based on original field work or research, like future physician Lim Meng Hooi’s eight-page class project paper on the mineral content of soil from the school garden. Drawing on expertise and advice from the RRI, this schoolboy effort, supported by charts, diagrams and photographs, could easily hold its own against as any university undergraduate assignment. More astonishing was the precocious effort of K. Arichandran in 1959 who wrote an original mathematical treatise on solving projectile problems by drawing. In nine pages of figures and equations, Arichandran described a method - based on nothing more than Form Six mathematics - of locating the points of impact of a project using just compasses, straight-edge and pencil. Ari’s own career trajectory has seen his beginnings as an Arts student in Forms 4 and 5, his switch to the science stream in Form Six and his appointment as Professor of Engineering.
There were a few severe dislocations, though, between school interests and future vocation: Kok Wee Kiat wrote on photosynthesis in 1958, sprinkling his article with ionic equations. After editing the same journal the following year, he turned his back on science and read law at university instead! Another editor, Chong Siew Meng, wrote exclusively two years running on astronomical topics - Quasars and The Birth and Death of Stars - but became a pathologist instead, earning his living peering downwards through a microscope instead of skywards through a telescope. However, stars are still Siew Meng's passion - honestly, can he help it if the character for "Meng" is made up of the radicals for the sun and the moon? A former President of the Astronomical Society of Malaysia, he has co-authored a book on the moon - with nothing as yet on pathology. Siew Meng's contemporary and a member of his editorial board, K. Satkunantham, authored a prize-winning article on the detection of sub-atomic particles using cloud and bubble chambers. The budding physicist became an orthopaedic surgeon instead and is now the Director of Medical Services in Singapore. Norman Foo Yeow Khean, who pioneered the Psychology Section in the 1959 Science Exhibition, mapped out an extensive outline of that discipline in The Scientific Victorian. But he went on instead to read engineering and later shifted sideways into computing. But some karmic influence must be at work nudging him back to psychology, because Norman Foo is today Professor of Artificial Intelligence researching human behaviour on computers.
Predictions, no matter how informed, and reality are seldom in sync as well. Future engineer Chow Kok Hoong’s 1959 article on The World in 2000 A.D. talked about how atomic power would have been harnessed for peaceful purposes when the 21st century dawned. In a future household, he sniffed, robots would cook simple meals and other machines would polish, clean and sweep the house. Citing space travel as another benefit the inhabitants of 2000 A.D. would enjoy, he prophesized that "the gigantic space-liners of that age could take them to Mars for Easter, Pluto for the August holidays and maybe Jupiter for Christmas." Hmmm…
The Scientific Victorian was ably supported over the years by the V.I. science staff, some of whom contributed articles as well. From Joan Floyd came an article on Economic Zoology and two reports on field trips by her students, including one in 1958 for a survey of the fauna of the Gombak River at the request of the Chemistry Department. Her colleague and successor Yeoh Oon Chye generated an eight-page report on an ecological study of some tin tailings at Ampang while Indian expatriate teacher F C Vohra expounded on animal courtship. Chemistry master, Sim Wong Kooi, contributed two articles with completely different themes and thrusts. His first, Chemistry in Malay and Malay in Chemistry, was a sober survey of Malay terminology coined for chemistry four years after independence. His seven-page thoughtful and detailed exposition - reprinted in the 1969 Scientific Victorian - quoted from Indonesian as well as Malayan sources and was critical of inconsistent and haphazard methods in coining terms. Wong Kooi pointed out many glaring examples and made several suggestions for better methodologies and approaches. His second contribution, in 1961, was Fun with Chemistry, a list of 100 humorous definitions of chemistry terms. Some samples:
Catalyst: Busybody, instigator and matchmaker.
Alchemists: Lazy people who expected to get gold without digging for it.
Nitrous oxide: Gas with a sense of humour.
Law of Conservation of Mass: Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, except when students perform the weighing.
Newly returned Old Boy physics teacher, Mohd Ali bin Ibrahim, wrote on cosmic radiation in the 1958 issue. In 1966, the journal’s advisory teacher, Chung Chee Min, wrote about a fundamentally new approach to mathematics education of that era dubbed the New Mathematics. He also redesigned the pictorial component of the cover, inserting Watson and Crick's by-now-famous double helix to go with the human head and leaf to represent the life sciences and an atom with orbiting particles to represent chemistry as well as physics. Mathematics was represented by a scattering of geometrical shapes and symbols including a pentagram, a sigma sign and a tessellation of polygons which morphed downwards into the chemical symbol of a benzene ring. The weight pulled by the horse was changed from 200 lbs to 550 lbs, a more meaningful number in the Imperial system of that time - if the cover horse pulled this new weight upwards one foot in one second it would generate, by definition, exactly one horse power!
Peace Corps teacher, Charles Norman Silver contributed a humorous piece in 1970. Quoting a certain "C.N. Argent" - purportedly a French pedagogue from Aix-la-Chapelle in the year 1789 - he presented, tongue in cheek, Argent’s two theorems on "Classroom dynamics". The first stated that the noise level of a classroom over time might be described by a saw-tooth curve, which Silver illustrated with a diagram and an exponential equation. An abstruse corollary followed: The area under the curve represents the sum of the kinetic energies of the tongues in the aggregate and is a direct function of the time of the day, subject and location of the classroom.
Argent’s second theorem intoned: In a class of N the abilities of the students are related to the distance from the front of the room by the following curve. The illustration showed two sinusoidal curves, one for noise and the other for ability plotted over distance, the peak of one curve coinciding with the trough of the other. One can only hope, even if the journal's readers did not know that argent meant silver in French, that they were aware that the piece was nothing more than a spoof.
The quality of The Scientific Victorian rapidly improved as it matured. Its articles got progressively longer (compared to the initial page-length efforts) and were packed with more detail. Photographs (snapped by the authors or sourced from agencies like the British Council or the USIS) were used increasingly and even the artwork was immeasurably improved with the recruitment into the editorial board of a succession of artists (beginning with Lee Wee Kee as "Artist" in 1958 and ending with R. Kularajah as "Art Editor" in 1964/1965). By 1959, enough articles had already been published to warrant an index for the past six years. 125 articles had been printed by then, with the most, 37, from physics, and 36 from biology. There had been 30 articles of general interest, 12 from chemistry and 10 from mathematics. The 1960 issue sold 1,500 copies bringing in a tidy profit of $600. The following year's journal, with a print run of 1,700, was sold out within a week. With orders were still pouring in from all parts of the country the editorial board decided to send a complimentary copy to every school that had to be turned down. With printing costs climbing though, the profit for 1961 was projected to be just over $250.
1957 had seen the beginnings of a regular forum although it was not described as such then. A light-hearted article, "Humanise the Scientists? Ha!" by Ooi Boon Teck, now a Professor of Power Engineering, poured contempt on the study of humanities with its "arid scholasticism" and "nothing but stacks of epic poetry and sickening Petrachian sonnets." Man, he asserted, does not "survive through verses, music and frescoes… we can sup in manna dew and drink in poesy, only all too often the murmur of gastric juices proclaim that it is time for dinner." Boon Teck challenged, "What do Wordsworth’s pantheism, d’Quincy’s opium dreams, à Kempis' ascetic piety, Tolstoy’s Christian pacifism, D. H. Lawrence’s sexual preoccupation tell us but apologies and excuses for the kind of lives they live?"
That was enough to raise the hackles of V.I. Head Girl, Leong Siew Mun, a future economist and University of Malaya Chief Librarian, and sometime poetess. In the immediate following pages (this clash was obviously engineered by prior arrangement by the editor Tan Hong Siang), Siew Mun launched her first salvo, " ‘The great man,’ said Confucius, ‘is no robot.’ After reading the last article, we see that its author is determined to be .. a robot!" We cannot go to war with sonnets and sonatas for the arts were essentially humanitarian, she thundered. "The greatness of law and justice is apparent in its keeping the world from chaos," Siew Mun asserted, "the philosophies of Confucius, Buddha, Christ preach tolerance and goodwill to all men…. Would you rather live in a world of machines and mathematics, of dynatron oscillators and dysprosium, of KCl, MgCL2.6H2O and COOH.CH2.CH(OH).COOH ….. or would you delight in the finer aspects of life - poetry, music, drama, dancing, painting, philosophy and the beauty, purity and truth of religion?"
This lively exchange began a tradition over the next few years of the examination of various scientific issues. 1958 saw the first formal forum with written opinions submitted in support of or in disagreement with a question that is still debated to this day - Creation or Evolution? As a matter of record, all three submissions from the science students supported evolution while the two opinions from the Arts stream were in favour of creation! Later forums sought the views of readers on The End of the Earth, Science and the Control of Human Life, Science and the Supernatural, Science and Society, and Science is Truth. They elicited enthusiastic and intense arguments from Victorians, schoolchildren at that time but today’s luminaries in science, engineering and medicine. The final forum in 1965 had a different format. It was live, presided over by the Society’s chairman and the previous year's The Scientific Victorian editor, Foo Yeow Leong, with participants from the V.I., M.B.S. and the Convent, Bukit Nanas. The topic was Is Sex Education Necessary in Malaysian Schools? A transcript of the discussion was printed in The Scientific Victorian.
The annual interhouse analytical chemistry competitions were initiated in 1959 with the aim of improving the practical chemistry skills of the Society’s members. The Scientific Victorian printed the names of the teams and the winners (senior and junior analysts) in its pages. But more useful and popular was the accompanying multi-page post mortem of the contest by the chemistry teacher in which he also gave tips and suggested answers. This section alone was worth the price of the magazine. Equally helpful, if not more, was the three-page systematic cations analysis chart prepared by Sim Wong Kooi, which the journal published in 1960 and reprinted in 1962. This detailed guide was normally given out to Mr Sim’s students for lab identification of cations; undoubtedly, it was a bonus for any Scientific Victorian reader anywhere.
By the early sixties the magazine was reaching its zenith with quality content and good sales. A newly arrived biology teacher from New Zealand, Mr Leslie Allen, had this to say of the Scientific Victorian: "Really amazing, you know, especially to find pupils writing such articles. In New Zealand most of this is usually done by the professors." In 1965 the journal published a bonus two-page chart of the heavens prepared by Ng Fook Loy. The star configuration reflected that seen in Kuala Lumpur skies. .That same year, the editorial board initiated an innovative idea to enhance the already high standard of articles it was publishing. A contest was announced for the best article submitted, with a Sheaffer’s Imperial 4 pen set donated by the Borneo Company as prize. The judges of the best article would be Dr Chatar Singh and Professor C. J. Eliezer both of the University of Malaya, and Drs E. K. Ng and B.C. Sekhar both of the Rubber Research Institute. All were members of the Malaysian Scientific Association. The award was won by Peter Tang for his article On Rocketry. His article, illustrated with two photographs and several diagrams, described the principles behind several kinds of rockets including solid propellant, liquid propellant, nuclear, ionic and photon rockets.
The editorial boards of 1966 and 1967 had other gimmicks to attract sales as well. Each issue of the 1966 Scientific Victorian came with instructions and a sheet of printed outlines of a trihexaflexagon and a hexahexaflexagon. These were paper polygons (with jaw-breaking names) to be snipped out and folded according to the instructions. They could then be flexed in various ways to exhibit many combinations and juxtapositions of patterns. The following year, the magazine rolled out another paper gift for its readers – polyominoes. Readers were invited to snip out the various preprinted shapes made of connected squares and to piece them together to form geometrical patterns.
By the late sixties, the V.I. was in the throes of change. In 1968, the Education Ministry scrapped the annual Sixth Form Entrance Examination whose results had hitherto been used to select Fifth Formers to join Lower Six in January of the following year. Beginning in 1969, Lower Sixers were selected on the basis of their School Certificate results. But these were released only in March of the new school year, which meant there was practically one whole term when there were no Lower Sixers around and the Sixth Form population comprised only the Upper Sixers. This had dire consequences on school activities including the Speech Day science exhibitions, Society activities and, of course, the contributions to and support for the Scientific Victorian. Adding to staff and student stress, following directives from the Education Ministry, the school population burgeoned post-May 13 to over 1,700 in two years. Extracurricular activities requiring classrooms were difficult to pursue as, even during school hours, some sixth form classes had to "float" around looking for vacant classrooms.
Still the 1970 editor found time to revamp The Scientific Victorian cover with a colourful collage of images of the various scientific fields covered, presumably, by the magazine - physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, life sciences, earth sciences and social sciences. By then the magazine’s analytic competition post-mortems had ended as had its forums. And there were no more gifts. Worse, the priorities and values of the Sixth Formers from whom the journal drew its readership and contributors seemed at odds with those of the past. There was hint of a creeping malaise, of despair and desperation, in the editorial by Anthony Sun:
Science is now turning into a mere farce! … It is no longer a sincere thirst for knowledge but a means whereby man steps into the next stage. This is magnified in very concrete terms in most schools today. …..No enthusiasm, no sincerity, no interest is found in the "budding scientists" in the classroom. Science is taught and learnt as a necessity for the selfish achievement of a certificate or perhaps as a means for subsistence. Is this the situation that should prevail? ....Education is under heavy moral criticism and upheaval…
Confirming Anthony Sun's fears, the 1971 issue failed to appear altogether and yet the Society’s annual report did not offer any explanation for its absence though it did report that its membership had plummeted to a shocking 75, less than half of the previous year’s 187 members. Even the Junior Science Club, comprising First, Second and Third Formers, could boast a larger membership – 130! While the Society lacked the critical mass to stage any large-scale activities, it still managed to launch a cyclostyled newsletter called Science Participator, whose aim, it said, was to serve as a medium for students to "air their views and to contribute their own articles of all kinds (short reports, discussions, puzzles, scientific poems, etc)." Two issues were published that year and by 1972 seven issues had seen the light of day. As a service to its members preparing for the General Paper, the newsletter published articles like Science and War, Man’s Participatory Evolution and Hungry World.
With its different focus, the Science Participator evidently fulfilled needs that The Scientific Victorian could not. In 1973 there were two more appearances of the Participator with articles treating science in a lighter vein. That same year saw the final issue of The Scientific Victorian. Its cover noted that it was for the years "1972-1973", suggesting that the journal had missed its 1972 appearance for the second year running. Further proof could be seen in the date of the annual report of the Science and Mathematics Society printed inside - 1972. The journal's own editorial hinted at the turmoil and soul searching roiling through the school and talked of even more changes to come:
The Victoria Institution as one of the premier schools in the country has a major role in the task of nation building. For decades the Victoria Institution has accomplished its task with flying colours. However the May 1969 disturbances and the disappointing MCE results of 1970 jolted our beautiful rhythm. We are still in the process of reorganizing ourselves in order to recover our step. To do so, several changes have to be accommodated and the traditionalists have had to make several concessions....
When The Scientific Victorian first released its publication twenty years ago, the only society that catered for the scientific interests of the students was the Science and Mathematics Society. The magazine was accordingly called the Journal of the Science and Mathematics Society. Presently there are three major societies that promote scientific activities, namely, the Science and Mathematics Society, the Automotive Society and the Electronics Club. Recently, there were many proposals, some suggesting the amalgamation of the above societies and some the dissolution of the Science and Mathematics Society into specialized sub-societies. As yet no concrete steps have been taken. It is up to the respective newly elected executive committees and, most important of all, the science students, to decide the future of these societies and consequently to redefine the role of the Scientific Victorian accordingly.
And the following year, 1974, the three science societies did indeed merge to form the V.I. Science Union, continuing a trend started ten years earlier when their arts counterparts of that time had merged to form the Arts Union. 1974, too, was significant in that there was a fundamental shift - as foreshadowed in the editorial above - in official school policy away from "traditionalism." The annual Sports and Speech Days were curtailed considerably in their "showiness" and cost. The venerable Victorian magazine underwent a profound change with its 44-old cover design ditched and its report formats changed. The literary section having been tossed out a year earlier, the 1974 issue now weighed in at a mere 100 pages compared to 174 pages just a year ago.
Frugality and a determined break with the past seemed the order of the day as society reports and house reports were strung together continuously one after the another minus even the names of office-bearers (these were all stuffed separately in small print into a two-page matrix elsewhere). The report of the new two-hundred member Science Union took just three paragraphs – 188 words. Of the Scientific Victorian, this and later Science Union reports made no mention. Perhaps the new student leaders thought such a high brow journal irrelevant to the new temper of the times. Whatever the reason, Tay Chong Hai’s baby had vanished into the night, more with a whimper than a bang. The Science Participator continued publishing for a few more years and then it too faded away.
Created: 31 December 2005.
Last update: 18 August 2007.