Why Not Merge Bukit Timah Schools?

The news that 8 junior colleges and several more schools are going to merge, announced on on Thursday (April 20), has given people a lot of food for thought — especially those whose alma maters or children’s current schools are going to be wiped out.

A Singaporean named Ong Kim Lee decided to pen his thoughts on the matter and submit them to the Straits Times Forum page, thereby joining the grand old tradition of ST Forum writers with great suggestions.

This is what he said:

I hope the MOE will consider having more JCs located in the heartland areas, for the convenience of students.

For instance, Hwa Chong Institution and National Junior College could merge and use the Tampines JC building.

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Yeah, Why Not?

Now, before we laugh off Mr Ong’s suggestion, it does make some sense. Here’s why:

Geographical Location

According to an explanation on the gov.sg website, the JCs that were selected for merger were chosen based on geography to ensure a good spread of JCs across the country.

That means instead of merging a JC in the west with a JC in the east, the Ministry of Education (MOE) merged 2 JCs that were in the same region of Singapore, e.g. 2 JCs that are nearer each other in the west, to ensure that there will still be a JC in that region.

Let’s now take a look at the respective locations of Hwa Chong Institution (formerly Hwa Chong Junior College before it merged with its secondary school counterpart The Chinese High School to form HCI) and National Junior College.

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Turns out that one map is enough, because the two JCs are across the road from each other, on opposite sides of Bukit Timah and Dunearn roads.

That’s nearer to each other than all the 4 pairs of JCs that are merging with each other!

So just in terms of geography, then, HCI and NJC are prime candidates for merger.

Empty Buildings

An issue that was not addressed during the uproar over the mergers was, what are the authorities going to do with the 4 campuses that would left empty in its wake?

Specifically, the freshly vacated buildings of Jurong JC, Innova JC, Serangoon JC and Tampines JC?

Mr Ong’s suggestion to move the freshly merged Hwational JC (sounds better than Natchong JC) to the soon-to-be-empty premises of Tampines JC is an answer.

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Since there is a ready-made and fully-functional campus for junior college there, it makes sense that another JC moves in after Tampines JC moves out — not much renovation will be needed, which saves cost and resources.

The Tampines JC site is also near to the upcoming Tampines East MRT station of the Downtown Line, so it’s a choice location for a school, as students can get to school easily.

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However, if we know Singapore, the empty campus will probably be seen as a prime spot for yet another one of these projects:

  1. Condo
  2. Office-cum-retail
  3. Megamall

After all, in deciding what to use land in Singapore for, educational use just can’t compare with commercial use, right?

IP Schools Don’t Merge

In the first place, the merger of HCI and NJC will definitely be a no go — we don’t even have to bother asking MOE to know that.

Not only is HCI an independent school, but both JCs also both offer the Integrated Programme (IP) — a scheme that allows students to skip the O levels entirely to take the A levels or the International Baccalaureate after 6 years.

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It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the 8 JCs that are merging don’t offer the IP, and are all government schools. In fact, gov.sg explains why that is so, saying:

In considering the compatibility of merger partners, we generally prefer to pair Government schools. The mergers would be far more complex and challenging if we paired a Government school with a Government-Aided school, as their legal and governance structures are different and difficult to integrate.

Integrated Programme (IP) JCs and non-IP JCs are not compatible merger partners because they offer different programmes to suit their students’ needs.

The website did not mention, however, why 2 JCs that both offer the IP can’t be merged — for example HCI and NJC, or Temasek JC and Victoria JC, which are located fairly near to each other in Bedok and Marine Parade respectively.

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IP Men (And Women)

Of course, schemes like the IP aren’t offered to students who aren’t academically inclined. Among the 8 JCs that will be merged, 7 of them are rock-bottom of our 2017 ranking of JCs according to cut-off points, and they all don’t offer the IP.

So perhaps the ministry is just considerate enough to avoid disrupting the studies of the IP students and the work of their teachers? After all, movers can be noisy.

And we guess like the gov.sg website said, IP students and non-IP students have different needs — IP students have the need for their schools to be left in peace, while non-IP students don’t have that need.

Eunoia, He Doesn’t Know

Mr Ong also brought up another point in his letter that many Singaporeans may also be wondering.

The MOE announced in 2015 that the new Eunoia JC would be formed, and he asked why open a new JC, and then merge 8 others soon after?

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Well, gov.sg had an explanation to that, too. (You see Mr Ong, if only you had read our government website, you wouldn’t have so many questions.)

Eunoia JC leverages the strengths of each partner secondary school (Catholic High, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ and Singapore Chinese Girls’), so as to offer innovative programming.

Even though we had anticipated falling cohort sizes in the coming years, we decided in 2010 that we should not hold back this new JC model, so that more students can benefit from the Integrated Programme.

In other words: Eunoia JC got IP, so cannot touch. The other 8 JCs don’t have IP, so can merge.

It all boils down to the IP again, which — it bears repeating — only the good students tend to take.

No Merger

So will the MOE take Mr Ong’s suggestion and merge HCI and NJC?

The answer is a big fat NO.

And it doesn’t take a genius to know why.

We guess that relegates Mr Ong’s letter to the huge archive of ST Forum letters not meant to be taken seriously.

If you came from one of these 8 non-IP JCs that the MOE deems merge-able, you will soon only have your memories of your JC days.

Featured image from Facebook and Facebook