Swelling Population, Packed Trains & Collapsing Schools

So what’s new? Eight junior colleges (JC) are set to collapse into four in 2019. This would be the largest school merger exercise in the past decade affecting a total of 28 schools, the Education Ministry (MOE) announced on April 20 2017.

In the north-east, Serangoon JC will merge with Anderson JC, with the merged school to continue operations in the latter’s Yio Chu Kang campus.

Innova JC will merge with Yishun JC (YJC), and the consolidated school will operate out of YJC’s Yishun Ring Road location in the north.

In the east, Meridian JC will merge with Tampines JC, with the merged school moving into Meridian’s campus in Pasir Ris.

And in the west, Jurong JC will merge with Pioneer JC, with the consolidated campus to be located at Pioneer’s in Teck Whye.

That’s not all. 3 pairs of secondary schools plus seven pairs of primary schools will also be merged. You can get the details here.

The move to merge JCs come against the backdrop of falling student numbers since 2014. Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng revealed in a parliamentary reply a year ago that JC enrolment has fallen from 30,200 in 2014 to 27,100 in 2016. He said then that falling cohort sizes in recent years are expected to continue to “trend down” over the next few years, and this would have implications for JCs.

Now let’s take a look at Singapore’s population growth. Rapid immigration was meant to compensate for falling birth rates – to the extent that our public transport network is overworked. Why is it that school enrolment has fallen so drastically that so many schools must merge? Have our aggressive immigration policies been less holistic than they ought to be? What about the hordes of foreign students we are supposed to have attracted? If we can pack our trains, buses and hospitals why can’t we pack our schools? Have we been importing new citizens for the future or have we been importing them ready for the job market so as to obtain immediate gratification in the form of brag-worthy GDP growth?

The Straits Times reports:

Ms Liew Wei Li, director of schools at MOE: “We have thought through the various options. This is a very difficult decision. We have agonised over it. We find that we have little choice but to merge the JCs, in order that we can provide that kind of opportunities and range of choices for the students to come.”

Agonised over it? That’s interesting. I thought the writing was on the wall. Or could it be that after “agonising” over it, they happened to come to a decision that coincided with what the minister was hinting at a year ago?

Could the option of having smaller class sizes to measure up to OECD standards have been considered and discussed at all? Perhaps we’ll never know how that was thrown out of their numerous meetings, but if adopted, there would be no problems with redeploying our valuable educators. And let’s not get to the “money no enough” excuse which has already been debunked by “insider” Mr Yeoh Lam Keong. We know that our government can easily afford it without raising taxes.

The Straits Times also said:

But the ministry gave the assurance that despite the mergers, there will be space for every student who qualifies for JC.

Which is effectively no assurance because with fewer places in our JCs, the numbers who “qualify” will naturally be reduced and redefined. What is even more agonising is that a certain pattern exists in this merging exercise.

© Chan Joon Yee

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