The rise of mid-tier JCs

Nanyang Junior College: Where one size doesn’t fit all

Nanyang Junior College alumni Chow Ting Yu (left), 19, and Ng Chia Wee, 18, were allowed to take unusual subject combinations despite the school having to make adjustments to the timetable.
Nanyang Junior College alumni Chow Ting Yu (left), 19, and Ng Chia Wee, 18, were allowed to take unusual subject combinations despite the school having to make adjustments to the timetable.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

The Straits Times looks at three such junior colleges making their mark and what makes them tick

At Nanyang Junior College (NYJC), students start school at 8.30am - a practice put in place six years ago.

And it has proven a hit with both students and staff.

Most schools in Singapore start the day at 7.30am.

 
 
 

NYJC principal Kwek Hiok Chuang, 61, explained: "My students come from more than 80 schools, and some live as far away as Jurong West or Tampines.

"It can be quite rushed for students. We want them to start the day right, even from the journey they take to get to school."

Mr Kwek said that he takes the views of his staff and students seriously. "It's good for students to have that extra hour of sleep and rest."

This flexibility is extended to students in other ways as well. For instance, they are allowed to take unusual subject combinations, even though it means adjusting timetables.

Said Ms Chow Ting Yu, who graduated from NYJC in 2014 and is now studying linguistics at the National University of Singapore: "Most JCs are not as flexible and offer strict combinations."

The 19-year-old who studied linguistics, literature and geography at the H2 level, and H1 mathematics, added: "NYJC was one of the few schools that offered the subjects I wanted."

Similarly, Mr Ng Chia Wee, 18, who took his A levels last year, chose H2 geography, economics and mathematics, and H1 history - an uncommon combination.

Alumni help spread the word on Nanyang JC’s allure

Mr Kwek even granted him two weeks of study leave before the preliminary exams in September, so he could stay at home instead of going to school for revision classes.

"I felt an urgent need to spend more time consolidating all the material across my subjects, which were very content-heavy," said Mr Ng.

"I wanted to focus on my weaknesses, instead of going through a generic revision programme for hundreds of students. I was so surprised he would suggest that idea after I shared with him my thoughts," added Mr Ng. "It's quite unconventional for a principal to have that amount of trust in us."

Mr Ng and his father met Mr Kwek and some teachers to plan a personalised study timetable.

"Mr Kwek said he recognised that studying is not one-size- fits-all and he gave me a choice as to where I wanted to be and how I wanted to study," said Mr Ng.

Mr Kwek, who joined NYJC in December 2005, attributed the school's popularity to alumni who spread the word to their juniors, often with the help of social media.

"We're not able to dictate who should be here, or who puts us as first choice," he said. "I discovered that many students are attracted to us because they heard about the school from seniors."

For first-year student Kaloyan Caluodor, 18, NYJC was his third choice, after he failed to get into National JC and Victoria JC.

"I was planning to appeal, but I had such a good impression of NYJC at the open house and during orientation," he said. "The seniors were very friendly, and the teachers were willing to explain the programmes to us."

Mr Kwek, who joined the education service as a mathematics and physics teacher in 1978, said: "I'm very happy that NYJC has improved over the years and students are saying good things about us."

The school has 710 students this year, about the same as the last two to three years. It has about 160 teachers.

"As students get better, they also expect more," said Mr Kwek, adding that the school tweaks its teaching methods along the way.

"We ask more questions that require critical thinking, engage students in a deeper way and look for more challenging case studies," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'The rise of mid-tier JCs'. Print Edition | Subscribe