Mr Yong Nyuk Lin was the first Minister for Education in Singapore’s first Cabinet in 1959.
At the age of 41, Mr Yong resigned from the Overseas Assurance Company as its general manager to stand for elections in 1959. He was successfully elected and became a Member of Parliament for Geylang West. It was also in the same year when Mr Yong launched a Chinese literacy initiative to ensure Mandarin is used as a common language for all the Chinese dialect groups.
To realise the government’s goal of universal primary education, Mr Yong doubled the intake of students by splitting schools into morning and afternoon sessions. Mr Yong also introduced multilingual integrated schools as well as the first Malay and Tamil secondary schools. This laid the foundation of Singapore’s education system for the subsequent years.
In 1963, Mr Yong was given the Health Minister portfolio and he played a significant role in reorganising Singapore’s hospital services. Noting the shortage in medical staff, he expanded training schools to increase student intakes. Mr Yong also introduced effective immunisation campaign, school dental clinics and bi-annual check-ups for primary school students. This improved the health of young children and protected them against diseases such as polio and cholera.
In 1965, Mr Yong was among the ministers who signed the Separation Agreement that declared Singapore’s independence.
Later in 1968, Mr Yong moved on to helm the newly formed Ministry of Communications. During that period, Mr Yong and the ministry were involved in the creation of Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Telecommunications Authority, the expansion of civil aviation and Singapore’s container port facilities, and early studies of the feasibility of the Mass Rapid Transit system.
Mr Yong Nyuk Lin passed away in 2012, at the age of 94.
Photo credit for main image: Joost Evers / Anefo – Nationaal Archief