TL;DR – The writing was on the wall for a very very long time.
Four JCs will have to
close merge with other JCs. The writing was on the wall for a very long time. All the “stakeholders” (e.g. students, alumni, teachers) should have seen it coming from a mile away. Just like SGSecure’s message. Not if. But when. And the “when” just happened. Why was this something that was a long time coming?
The ostensible reason that is in the media is that the student population is dropping and will drop further. But that’s not the only reason. Nor does that reason alone explain why those JCs and not others.
Here we offer three, more in-depth explanations, that you won’t find elsewhere.
1. Pressure from the “top” JCs
The “top” schools have steadily increased their intake. This means that there is now more supply for JC places at the top. It all started with the Integrated Programme (IP), started in 2004 with four secondary schools and two JCs.
It just so happened that those two JCs, Hwachong and Raffles, are the most popular JCs in Singapore. So in order to ensure that students from other secondary schools can still gain entry to these two JCs after O-Levels, the intake of those two schools were increased. From the pre-IP intake of about 800, the annual intake each of these two JCs are about 1,100 to 1,200. That’s a total increase of about 500 JC places in those two JCs.
Then a few other schools and JCs came together to offer their own IP. JCs like Temasek and Victoria probably didn’t increase their intakes by much. But then came along Eunoia JC. That probably added another 600 to 800 JC places.
There are also two secondary schools which offer the IP. Instead of starting separate JCs, they expanded to have JC sections. These are River Valley High School and Dunman High School. Those two schools would have added another 800 JC places.
2. Pressure from other alternatives
The drop in demand for JC places doesn’t just come from the drop in student population. It is also a result of other options being made available.
In 2004, ACS(I) started its the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. MGS joined them in 2012. Together, they would probably take in 400 students who would otherwise have gone to JCs.
And let’s not forget about NUS High School (NUSHS) and School of The Arts (SOTA). Most, if not all, of the students in NUSHS would probably have ended up in JC if not for NUSHS. That would also be the case for some of the students in SOTA. Put together, these two specialised independent schools would probably account for around 500 students.
3. Just not attractive enough
Sum all that up, that’s an increase of about 2,800 places in these “top” schools and alternatives. So even if the population of students per cohort didn’t drop, many of the JCs would already find it more challenging to attract enough students to fill their capacity (capacity of each JC is about 800 students per year).
And the reality is those four JCs just aren’t attractive enough to students. Yes, many stakeholders of those four schools have raised their concerns about, and some opposition to, about the mergers. But if you were to ask them this question:
“If your child scored 270 in PSLE, would you (a) choose to send your child to a secondary school with IP or (b) send your child to a secondary school without IP and then send your child to JJC, TPJC, SRJC, or IJC”?
How many of those concerned stakeholders would emphatically choose the option (b)?
Probably very few.
Maybe that’s a bit extreme. Let’s ask these concerned stakeholders this question:
“If your child scored an L1R5 of 10 for O-Levels, would you (a) send your child to a secondary school without IP and then send your child to JJC, TPJC, SRJC, or IJC or (b) PJC, MJC, AJC, or YJC?”
I bet most of these concerned stakeholders would choose option (b).
In other words, while MOE might think and try to convince parents that every school is a good school, clearly not all parents think that way. Clearly some parents think that those four JCs just aren’t good enough to convince them to send their children there. In contrast, there are probably large enough groups of stakeholders who will actually actively encourage their children or the children of their friends to go JCs like NYJC, ACJC, SAJC, and CJC.
Put the above together with the declining student population, it is obvious that some JCs have to go. Is it surprising that these four JCs were chosen? No. Not surprising at all.
So what’s the big deal about the JC mergers?
Concerned parents: My child will have no choice left!
The first concern is from parents. They might worry that their children may not have sufficient options. Before the mergers, if your child scored an L1R5 of 15 in the O-Levels, and didn’t want to travel too far for JC, he probably could choose from one of two JCs (e.g. between PJC and JJC). After the merger, your child has no choice. But if he is willing to travel a bit further, he could still have a choice of about three (maybe four) JCs.
Or he could choose to go to a polytechnic. What’s wrong with going to a polytechnic? In the past, the case against going to a polytechnic is quite strong. In the past, if you wanted to make it to a university in Singapore, you better go JC.
But now, that is no longer true. 1 in 3 students admitted to a local university is a polytechnic student in 2015.
Looking at the numbers from the Education Statistics Digest 2016, that means about 25% of polytechnic students make it to a local university. If your child scored an L1R5 of 15 at the O-Levels and chose to go to a polytechnic, there’s still a very good chance of him making to university.
Conversely, each year, about 1,000 JC students have to repeat JC1. And then about 1,000 JC students don’t make it to a local university. So if your child scored an L1R5 of 15 and went to a JC, there’s a good chance that he might not make it to a local university.
An A-Level certificate is only good if it allows you to get into a university. Otherwise, it’s quite useless. In contrast, a diploma is very useful, regardless whether you make it into a local university.
So it’s not true that students will end up with no options with the merger of JCs.
Concerned teacher: I’m going to be retrenched!
The second concern is from teachers. Will teachers be retrenched because of this merger? That won’t happen. EVER.
MOE knows at least six years in advance how many teachers they need. How come? Because children born today will enter primary schools seven years later. By looking at the number of children born today, MOE can project and plan for the number of teachers needed six to seven years later.
Given that the attrition rate of teachers (i.e. teachers who quit and retire) each year is fairly constant, MOE can ramp up or slow down the training and recruitment of teachers as needed. That means that the number of teachers in Singapore will always be just about right. It may be a little bit more than what is needed. But the excess will never be so great that MOE will have to retrench teachers.
The only valid concern is that some JC teachers may lose their jobs. In the sense that they may not be able to teach the same subject at the JC level anymore. Instead of teaching Biology at JC level, they may have to teach Combined Science in at the secondary school level. Instead of dealing with students who are a little more mature and generally better behaved, they may have to deal with students who are more rebellious and with more challenging behaviour.
Is that such a big deal?
Welcome to the real world, teachers.
We are in a world where most people should expect to have to move between multiple careers. A world where someone in the oil and gas industry today may have to move into a completely different industry (perhaps logistics) doing something completely different.
Compared to those people, the changes that the affected JC teachers have to adapt to are not great. If they can’t adapt to those changes, then it’s worrying. It means that they have gotten so comfortable that they have forgotten what it’s like to learn new things. And the ability to learn to learn, and to adapt to changes are THE MOST IMPORTANT things that we need to develop in students. If teachers have lost those ability, can we still trust our children to them?
In any case, the teachers will only be redeployed in 2019. They have one-and-a-half years to prepare themselves. And the Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU) is also going to help them.
Here’s the STU’s statement:
STU’s RESPONSE TO MOE’s ANNOUNCEMENT ON SCHOOL MERGER EXERCISE
STU acknowledges the need for school mergers in light of changing national demographics. We are particularly concerned this time as this is the first time JCs are being merged. We know there are concerns from Teachers on their new work environment, especially Teachers who might have to be redeployed to teach in Secondary or Primary schools or even being posted to HQ.
The advance notice allows STU to engage with MOE on our members’ feedback. STU has been briefed by MOE on the merger exercise and would be meeting affected members in the upcoming weeks.
Professional dialogues should take place to consider our members’ concerns in their future deployments. Any transfer would not be easy, especially for Teachers who have been teaching in the same school for a long time.
Affected Teachers should also be given ample time to be trained for conversion, if required. There ought to be a fair representation of Key Personnel and School Leaders from both schools/JCs in the merged entities.
STU will also be providing assistance and Counselling support for its members who might encounter issues with deployment and adapting to their new school environment. Members who have queries can contact STU via firstname.lastname@example.org”
So. Teachers. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.
Some interesting questions to think about
Yes. There are still some interesting questions about the merger of JCs that can be discussed. Like why is our government so elitist? Why expand the IP even though birth rates are falling, only to close JCs? Also, instead of closing JCs, can we not have smaller class sizes instead? Why is the government so calculative? Must everything be seen in the context of cost versus benefits? Education isn’t business. It’s a public good!
It will take another few more articles to properly discuss and analyse those issues. Perhaps another time.