Teachers affected by upcoming school mergers will be given bridging courses and lighter teaching loads where possible, said Senior Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary, as redeployed teachers were once again assured that they would not be retrenched.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Dr Puthucheary said the bridging courses will help equip the affected teachers with the competencies and content knowledge to make the switch, while the lighter loads would give them time and space to adjust.
Seven backbenchers asked about school and junior college mergers during what was Parliament's first opportunity to debate the issue.
Besides querying how the Ministry of Education (MOE) decides on school mergers, the MPs also asked how teaching staff can be prepared for the move.
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In April this year, MOE announced that due to a shrinking student population, 14 schools will be folded into others by 2019 to keep school sizes feasible. For the first time, this merger exercise will include junior colleges.
Serangoon, Tampines, Innova and Jurong JCs will be absorbed by Anderson, Meridian, Yishun and Pioneer respectively, cutting the number of JCs from 23 to 19.
MOE had also announced that seven pairs of primary schools and three pairs of secondary schools will merge as well.
PAINFUL BUT NECESSARY MOVE
We recognise that school mergers are painful for students, staff and alumni, but they are necessary. Without mergers, some schools will be facing such low enrolment that they will not be able to provide our students with the array of subject combinations, co-curricular activities, and enrichment programmes that they deserve.
SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE (EDUCATION) JANIL PUTHUCHEARY
Dr Puthucheary said besides the bridging courses, affected teachers will also have the opportunity to be attached to their new schools before their formal postings begin. After they have been posted, MOE will continue to support these teachers through regular engagement sessions.
Redeployed teachers will also be paired with mentor teachers while schools, where possible, have been asked to adjust their workload.
He reiterated MOE's rationale for merging schools.
He said: "We recognise that school mergers are painful for students, staff and alumni, but they are necessary. Without mergers, some schools will be facing such low enrolment that they will not be able to provide our students with the array of subject combinations, co-curricular activities, and enrichment programmes that they deserve."
Dr Puthucheary said in the case of junior colleges, the intake is projected to fall by 20 per cent - from 16,000 students in 2010 to around 12,800 students in 2019.
"This fall of 3,200 JC1 students is equal to the intake for four typical JCs. If MOE does not take any action now, several of our JCs would find themselves with JC1 intake of below 400, less than half of the typical 800.
"Some would even struggle to fill 200 places. When this happens, the educational experience of the students enrolled in these JCs will be severely compromised," he explained.
In response to some MPs who asked if other options were considered, he said one option considered was to retain schools even when enrolment has fallen. Co-curricular programmes can be run at a cluster or regional level by bringing together students from various schools.
However, MOE decided against it as staff and students would face operational challenges such as timetabling constraints, and the need to travel between different schools for activities.
He also addressed the concern among some parents and students that fewer junior colleges would mean stiffer competition for places. He said the cut-off points may vary slightly next year following the mergers, but gave the assurance that every student who qualifies for junior college admission will have a place.
MOE plans to increase the JC1 student intake for the remaining junior colleges so that there are sufficient places.