Ruth Wong Hie King
Pioneering educator who transformed teacher training in Singapore
Ruth Wong was an extraordinary individual. Widely regarded as a forward-thinking and pioneering Singapore educator, Ruth Wong Hie King was the first woman principal of the Teachers' Training College (TTC) and the founding director of the Institute of Education (now known as the National Institute of Education) in Singapore.
Ruth was born in Singapore to highly respected parents who came from Fuzhou, China. After her education, she taught briefly at Anglo-Chinese School. She then obtained scholarships to attend Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland and subsequently at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University where she obtained a doctorate in education in 1962.
She then taught at the University of Malaya in Singapore and went on in 1963 to start the Faculty of Education at the newly established sister campus in Kuala Lumpur. In 1969, she returned to Singapore and joined the Ministry of Education as the Director of Research. She was concurrently the Principal of TTC, which she single-handedly upgraded. It eventually became the Institute of Education (IE) in 1973 and she was appointed its inaugural director.
The establishment of IE improved teacher education significantly. She restructured the teacher-training curriculum and introduced a multi-disciplinary approach to teacher training. Advanced for her time, she was a strong advocate of collaborative learning, the use of objectives and research-based assignments to replace examinations.
These policies helped establish a new curriculum for teacher education with a twin focus of building the teacher’s professional competence as well as the student’s personal growth. Under her leadership the concept of teacher training evolved into teacher education and she brought about a rise in the status of teachers both academically and professionally.
She received many honours and awards during her 44-year career. These included the Isabella Todd Memorial Prize and the Sir John Porter Scholarship at Queen’s University. While at Harvard she was made a member of the Pi Lambda Theta Honor Society of Women in Education. She was awarded a visiting fellowship under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (Australia), elected to the fellowship of the College of Preceptors (London), and made a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, among others.
She also served on several international educational organisations, including the governing board of the United Nations Educational Scientific, Cultural Organisation’s Institute of Education; the International Institute of Educational Planning Council of Consultant Fellows; the Board of Directors of the International Council on Education for Teaching; and the Editorial Board of the International Review of Education.
She was a member of the Research Review Advisory Committee of the IDRC, Canada, and a member of the Advisory Board to the International Education Group, Faculty of Education, University of Toronto.
Ruth retired from IE in 1976 but continued to be involved as part-time student counsellor and a resident fellow at King Edward Hall at the University of Singapore. She also served as the President of National Council of Girls' Brigade, Singapore in 1977. She died aged 64 after an illness.
"A teacher who is not an inquirer nor a problem-solver is hardly likely to provide the right intellectual climate for his pupils to ask constructive questions or develop critical ability."