Sang Nila Utama Secondary School

Singapore Infopedia


Sang Nila Utama Secondary School, formerly located at Upper Aljunied Road, was the first Malay-medium secondary school established in Singapore and the third secondary school built after Singapore attained self-government in 1959.1 The school was officially opened in 1961 and ceased operations by 1988.2 It was named after Sang Nila Utama, the Prince of Palembang who was believed to be the founder of Singapura.3

Though formal secular education for Malays in the Malay language was first introduced in 1834, Malay education in Singapore made little progress under British colonial rule.4 Steps were taken to improve Malay education after the People’s Action Party took over the government in 1959.5 New education policies were formulated based on the principles of providing equal treatment for all four official language streams of education, by introducing bilingual education in primary schools and trilingual education in secondary school and establishing Malay as the national language. The establishment of Malay secondary schools was seen as an initial step in providing educational support for Malays in attaining social mobility and economic advancement. Malay-medium secondary classes were first introduced in Kallang, Monk’s Hill, Siglap, and Serangoon Secondary School and Geylang Craft Centre. In addition, plans were drawn up to build two Malay-medium secondary schools – Sang Nila Utama and Tun Sri Lanang secondary schools.6

Before the official opening of the school buildings, the students of Sang Nila Utama Secondary School were temporarily housed at English secondary schools.7 The school was officially opened on 14 October 1961 by then Minister of Education Yong Nyuk Lin, with an enrolment of 477 students and 18 teachers.8 The opening of the secondary school was seen as the most significant milestone in the development of Malay education in Singapore since the establishment of the first Malay primary school at Telok Blangah in 1856.9

From 1965 onwards, the school underwent several changes. Two Malay-medium pre-university classes were started in addition to the existing secondary classes.10 In 1968, the school transformed from a pure Malay-medium school into an integrated school by starting two English stream secondary classes.11 In 1972, Sang Nila Utama Secondary School became part of the scheme under a joint committee of Muslim societies in organising tutorial classes to help Malay-medium pre-university students prepare for the Higher School Certificate Examination.12

Major extensions to the school buildings were completed in May 1969 with the construction of additional classrooms, science laboratories, a demonstration room and rooms for home economics.13 The extension blocks were officially opened by then Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Development S. Ramasamy in 1970.14

Following the Ministry of Education’s decision to phase out all non-English-medium pre-university centres by 1981, Sang Nila Utama Secondary School stopped accepting pre-university students from 1979.15 The existing pre-university Malay stream classes were transferred to Bartley Secondary School the following year. The school’s intake of Malay-stream secondary classes also suffered a decline over the years. By 1984, only two classes remained, with an enrolment of 37 students.16 The school ceased operations by 1988.17 The school building served as temporary venue for the nearby Cedar Girls’ Secondary School when the latter’s school building underwent renovation from 1990 to 1994.18

Sang Nila Utama Secondary School was visited by several dignitaries, including the Raja Permaisuri Agong who visited the school on 12 November 1963 during his official visit to Singapore, which was seen as helpful in strengthening a Malaysian identity after the merger.19 Other dignitaries who visited the school include Puan Noor Aishah, the wife of the first president of Singapore Yusof bin Ishak, and Ivan Baptist, a former Member of Parliament.20

The school organised several events such as seminars. On 20 March 1971, the seminar “Dialogues on Modernisation – Nine Views” was jointly organised by the school’s Current Affairs Club and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.21 In 1972, the school jointly organised a two-day seminar for youth with the Ministry of EducationNational LibraryChinese YMCA and Junior Chamber of Singapore.22

Among the graduates of Sang Nila Utama Secondary School are several prominent personalities, including Yatiman Yusof, Singapore’s then high commissioner to Kenya; and Mohamad Maidin, former senior parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs.23 Prolific Malay writer Masuri Salikun and former Senior Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for Culture Sha’ari Tadin once taught at the school.24

Chow Yaw Huah

1. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Directory of Schools and Education Institutions (Singapore: Education Statistics Section, Planning & Management Services Division, Ministry of Education, 1987), 13 (Call no. RSING 371.00255957 DSEI-[DIR]); “The First School,” Straits Times, 15 October 1961, 11. (From NewspaperSG)

2. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Directory of Schools and Education InstitutionsFirst School.”
3. S. I. I., “Education and the Malays, 1945–1965,” in Malays/Muslims in Singapore: Selected Readings in History, 1819–1965, ed. Khoo Kay Kim, Elinah Abdullah and Wan Meng Hao (Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications in co-operation with Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs, 2006), 292. (Call no. RSING 305.8992805957 MAL)
4. T. R. Doraisamy, ed., 150 Years of Education in Singapore (Singapore: TTC Publications Board, Teachers Training College, 1969), 104–11. (Call no. RCLOS 370.95957 TEA)
5. S. I. I., “Education and the Malays,” 289.
6. Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education in Singapore112.
7. “First School.”

8. “Penyata Sekolah Menengah Sang Nila Utama 14.10.61–30.7.63,” Bahtera: Majallah Sang Nila Utama 1963, 9–10. (From BookSG)
9. S. I. I., “Education and the Malays,” 292.
10. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Annual Report 1965 (Singapore: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off, 1965), 6. (Call no.  RCLOS 370.95951 SIN)
11. “Foreword by the Principal,” Sang Nila Utama Secondary School: School Magazine (1984), 2. (Call no. RCLOS q373.5957 SNUSSS)
12. “Tuition for Malay-Medium Pre-Varsity Students,” Straits Times, 23 March 1972, 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Singapore Year Book ’69 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1970), 176. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SIN)
14. “School Opening,” Straits Times, 10 June 1970, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Koh Yan Poh, “'Pre-U One Places for All' Pledge By Ministry,” Straits Times, 27 December 1978, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Foreword by the Principal,” 2.
17. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Directory of Schools and Education Institutions.
18. “Cedar Girls to Relive Memories before Old School Is Torn Down,” Straits Times, 31 October 1989, 17. (From NewspaperSG)

19. “King and Queen Fly in today: 21-Gun Airport Salute,” Straits Times, 11 November 1963, 4; “Royal Visit,” Straits Times, 12 November 1963, 10. (From NewspaperSG).
20. “Muslim Party,” Straits Times, 12 February 1965, 22; “‘Don’t Depend Too Much on Immigrant Labour’ Advice,” Straits Times, 4 June 1978, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
21.  Sang Nila Utama Secondary School Current Affairs Club, Seminar Dialogues on Modernisation: Nine Views (Singapore: Sang Nila Utama Secondary School Current Affairs Club, 1971). (Call no. RCLOS 301.24 SAN)
22. “Do Not Run Away from Problems, Youths Told,” Straits Times, 27 February 1972, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Edwin Lee, Singapore: The Unexpected Nation (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2008), 496 (Call no. RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS]); Cephah Tan, “Maidin: Rootlessness and Loss of Values Are My Big Fears,” Straits Times, 9 April 1993, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Alvin Chiang, “He Slumps over on Sofa and Loses Consciousness,” New Paper, 8 December 2005, 4; Jeremy Au Yong, “PM Offers Condolences to Wife of Late MP,” Straits Times, 16 December 2009, 27. (From NewspaperSG)



Further resource
Sang Nila Utama Secondary School, MOE Heritage Centre, updated 17 July 2023. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore) 



The information in this article is valid as of March 2024 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Yong Nyuk Lin


Yong Nyuk Lin (b. 24 June 1918, Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaya–d. 29 June 2012, Singapore) was the minister for education in the first cabinet of the People’s Action Party. He later took on the health and communications portfolios. In these capacities, he increased access to education, sought to establish sustainable...

CYC Shanghai Shirt Company


CYC is a clothing firm best known for its custom-made shirts and corporate wear. Founded as CYC Shanghai Shirt Company in 1935, it became a leader in Singapore’s shirt industry and attracted customers from Malaysia and Indonesia during its heyday. Now known as CYC The Custom Shop, the company has...

Premiership of Lee Kuan Yew


The premiership of Lee Kuan Yew, which lasted over three decades from 5 June 1959 to 28 November 1990, was a dynamic period that saw the transformation of Singapore into one of Asia’s most stable and prosperous countries. Lee identified the five components of successful nation-building as stability, education, attracting...

Nanyang Technological University


The Nanyang Technological University was formally established on 1 July 1991 through the merger of the Nanyang Technological Institute and the National Institute of Education, though its origins can be traced to the establishment of Nanyang University in the 1950s. As Singapore’s main science and technology university, NTU focuses on...

National Service riots of 1954


Singapore’s earliest attempt to introduce compulsory conscription was in 1952. The endeavour was unsuccessful as it was vigorously resisted by Chinese middle school students and their parents, who did not see the need to support the British colonial government’s military efforts. The National Service Ordinance (NSO), officially implemented in March...

The Straits Times


With a history dating back to 1845, The Straits Times is the most widely read newspaper in Singapore with a reported combined print and digital readership of 1.34 million in 2014. It is currently the flagship English-language daily newspaper of Singapore Press Holdings Ltd (SPH), one of Asia’s leading media...

Tan Kah Kee


Tan Kah Kee (b. 21 October 1874, Jimei, Tong’an, Quanzhou, Fujian, China–d. 12 August 1961, Beijing, China) was a prominent Chinese businessman and philanthropist, nicknamed the “Henry Ford of Malaya”. He contributed extensively to the financing of schools and establishment of well-planned clusters of educational institutions, both in Singapore and...

Wang Gungwu


Wang Gungwu (b. 9 October 1930, Surabaya, Indonesia–) is an internationally renowned historian famed for his scholarship on the history of the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, as well as the history and civilisation of China and Southeast Asia. In his illustrious academic career, Wang has held eminent appointments in...

Victoria School


Founded as an English class for a handful of Malay students in 1876, Victoria School has produced many notable alumni over the years, including poet Edwin Thumboo and three of Singapore’s former presidents: Yusof Ishak, C. V. Devan Nair and S. R. Nathan....

Dennis Bloodworth


Dennis Bloodworth (b. 24 May 1919, London, England – d. 14 June 2005, Singapore) was a veteran journalist and writer who wrote extensively on the political developments in Southeast Asia and China....