School mergers 'painful but needed'

Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng described the move as "a painful but necessary decision".
Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng described the move as "a painful but necessary decision".PHOTO: ST FILE

Due to falling birth rate, if nothing is done, some schools will be half-filled, says minister

The move to merge 28 schools in 2019 was described as "a painful but necessary decision" by Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng - one that he personally agonised over.

Last week, the Education Ministry announced that it was merging 14 pairs of schools as cohort sizes are expected to drop by a fifth due to Singapore's falling birth rate. Eight of them were junior colleges, making this the first time that level was involved in a merger exercise.

In his first comments on the matter, Mr Ng yesterday posted on Facebook: "If we do nothing, we will see that several of our JCs will only be able to fill less than half of (their) JC1 desired intakes."

He explained that this will limit students' educational and co-curricular experiences. "My educators and I think this cannot be good for our students. We do not take school mergers lightly. We only proceeded... as we are sure it is... better for our students," he added.

Since the move was announced, some have wondered why junior colleges such as Eunoia or Innova were started in the last decade or so, given the expected fall in cohort numbers. In a forum letter to The Straits Times published today, MOE's director of schools Liew Wei Li said "having to merge schools does not mean no more new schools".

Newer estates with younger families may need new primary schools.

"We should also be open to starting new schools that can offer a different and valuable educational experience for students," she added.

 

She explained that this was the rationale for starting Eunoia JC, which offers the Integrated Programme. "We also started two Specialised Schools - Crest Secondary (in 2013) and Spectra Secondary (in 2014) - to give our students in the Normal (Technical) course more options."

She gave the assurance that even after the JC mergers, all students who have a gross aggregate score of 20 or below for L1R5 will definitely get a place in one of the JCs.

Mr Ng said many feel strongly about the mergers as they affect students, alumni, parents and teachers. His own primary school, Hua Yi Primary, had closed in 1991 due to low enrolment. "Each time I pass by where my primary school used to be, I will... feel nostalgic," he wrote.

• Additional reporting by Lydia Lam

SEE FORUM

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2017, with the headline 'School mergers 'painful but needed''. Print Edition | Subscribe