IT IS natural for parents to want their children to attend schools that are as near as possible to their homes. For primary school pupils, particularly the younger among them, proximity to school translates into longer periods of precious sleep or rest. However, distance becomes less important than it was when children grow up to adjust themselves to the physical and mental demands of the studious life. This transformation is well under way by the time they are in secondary school. By the time they are ready for junior college, polytechnic or university, adhering to a timetable of travel to their places of study would become but a routine part of the discipline that they are expected to bring to the organisation of their personal lives.
These realities must place in context the fact that some parents were dismayed by the Ministry of Education's choice of Mount Sinai as the interim site for a new junior college, after the original plan of having the temporary campus at Bishan had fallen through. The change in the interim location had upset parents who believed that Mount Sinai was so far away that their children would spend too much time travelling there. Ironically, few parents thought that way when the junior college located there was named Raffles and students willingly traversed the island if they got a coveted place there.
Nevertheless, MOE re-examined its assessment, that Mount Sinai was the best possible holding site for the new junior college, to take into account parents' concerns and objections. However, by sticking ultimately to Mount Sinai, the ministry has shown that its decisions need to be guided by the best trade-offs possible as these emerge through consultation and dialogue with key stakeholders. The main issue was to locate a holding site that possesses the physical amenities necessary to offer the learning environment needed by junior college students. It would have been absurd and irresponsible for the ministry to have compromised on that fundamental need simply to save on students' travelling time. Singapore is not so large that convenience in covering distance must outweigh quality in access to education. Distance surely is not the determining factor in students' choice of colleges or university.
Indeed, this truth leads on to employment choices as well. Their workplace might not be near home, but assiduous Singaporeans ensure that they get to work on time. Many might prefer to work closer to home but few will have much time for those who shun a good job simply because of the commute. This is true of any city, Singapore included. It took a certain hardiness in its people for this country to succeed. The young must imbibe that spirit too.