SINGAPORE - Students posted to junior colleges and the Millennia Institute were left disappointed when freshmen orientation programmes at the schools were scaled back and, in some instances, cancelled as a result of measures introduced following the coronavirus outbreak.
Kelly Goh, 17, was looking forward to the activities on Wednesday (Feb 5) and had even checked what was done in previous years at Victoria Junior College, where she was posted.
But on Tuesday, she was told mass activities at all schools had been suspended.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) had earlier announced that additional precautionary measures had to be taken, in the light of the ongoing coronavirus situation. All large group and communal activities - such as assemblies, camps and mass celebrations - were suspended, among other measures.
The announcement came the day before first-year students like Kelly were to report to the junior colleges and Millennia Institute.
"I was excited to meet new people from other groups during these mass games, but they have to be limited now," said Kelly.
MOE figures showed that of the 20,300 school-leavers this year, about 38 per cent were posted to junior colleges and the Millennia Institute.
Freshman orientation is one of the biggest social events on the junior college calendar, and most organising committees prepare months in advance.
But as a result of enhanced precautionary measures, freshman orientation programmes, which can run for up to eight days, had to be shortened and pared down this year.
Rachel Lee, 19, a first-year student at Yishun Innova Junior College, said she received a text message from her school on Tuesday, telling her to report the next day at 10.30am instead of 7.30am.
The first day of her orientation also ended early at 2.30pm instead of 5.30pm.
"The principal explained during his address that there were last-minute changes made due to the news regarding the virus," she said.
Precious Tan, 17, also a first-year student at Yishun Innova Junior College, said that in some schools, activities planned for the outdoors were either cancelled or moved indoors.
"We had to go indoors and have our talks (about what to expect for life in junior college) in a lecture hall instead of being outside... The JC2s (second-year students) did their best to keep the energy levels up," she said.
National Junior College held activities on a smaller scale for its freshmen.
"Instead of the whole cohort playing in the same venue, smaller groups played the same game but in smaller venues," said a spokesman for the school.
Students from other junior colleges had to give some traditions a miss.
For instance, dancing around the Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City under the stars on the last day of the orientation programme has been a tradition for students of Victoria Junior College.
"It was disheartening for us (organisers). But we are determined to rework activities so that the first-year students will have as much fun as we had (last year)," said Shania Yong, a 17-year-old Year 2 student and an orientation group leader from the school.
Some junior colleges will spend the time otherwise meant for games on academic matters, such as selecting subjects, while others will use it to discuss ongoing current affairs.
Ms Pamela Yoong, principal of Tampines Meridian Junior College, said: "The current JC1s were born in the year of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and may not have understood the impact it had on society.
"So, we are spending some time sharing the importance of personal and social responsibility with our students."
While students were disappointed, many understood the need to be prudent in the wake of the recent coronavirus developments.
Earnest Kang, a 16-year-old freshman at Yishun Innova Junior College, spoke to The Straits Times on Feb 5 outside his school after orientation.
He said: "Honestly, I found the orientation programme pretty good. The people were friendly, and we were told how the curriculum worked.
"I think what's important (for orientation) is to come in with an open heart, and make new friends."