Singapore’s education landscape will be vastly different come 2019. 7 pairs of primary schools and 3 pairs of secondary schools will be merged. That is no surprise. But what is shocking is that for the first time, 4 pairs of junior colleges will be merged, leaving 19 JCs instead of the current 23 JCs.

You can understand how upset many parents and alumni are – no more alma mater to go back to? Not to mention confused – If my child wants to enter Anderson JC in 2019, how many points will she need? But most of all, many people asked why? Why this need to merge JCs?

MOE responded that the JC mergers are necessary in the face of falling birth rates. Between 1993 and 2002, the number of live births fell 20% from about 49,000 to 39,000. Consequently, JC intake is expected to drop by a fifth, from 16,000 in 2010 to 12,800 by 2019. In the case of the few JCs slated for merger, the intake could fall to as low as 200 or 300 students over the next few years, not enough to achieve the “critical mass” to run a wide range of CCAs and programs.

Details

The 4 pairs of school to be merged are: Jurong- Pioneer, Innova- Yishun, Serangoon- Anderson, Tampines- Meridian.

The schools are chosen based primarily on location and falling intake.

Looking at this list, 7 out of the 8 schools slated for merger are schools with a cut-off point of more than 10, and cut-off point, like price in a market economy, is an indication of the demand for a certain school. Except where a low demand in a market economy is reflected by a low price, here a low demand for a school translates to a high cut-off point.  The only exception on this list, Anderson, is most likely implicated by its proximity to Serangoon JC.

To minimise the impact of the merger, the 4 JCs to be folded into another JC will pause student intake for one year in 2018 – so that students will not have to transit from an old school to a new school— and only resume student intake at the combined school in 2019. That means the 2017 JC1 students will be the last batch of students at Jurong, Innova, Tampines and Serangoon. Come 2018, their schools will be half-empty, which on the bright side, is more conducive for studying.

However, although the number of JCs taking in students will decrease next year, there will still be enough space for every student who qualifies for JC. This is made possible by expanding the intake at the 19 remaining schools. For instance, Anderson JC may take in 800-850 students, instead of the current 750. With bigger intakes, it will become easier to enter the more competitive schools.

Additionally, MOE promised that no teachers will lose their jobs. The teachers affected by the merger will move to the new joint schools with their bigger cohort of pupils, or be redeployed to MOE headquarters, to work on curriculum design etc.

Controversy

Some people are baffled by the fact that on one hand, 4 pairs of JCs have to merge; on the other hand, Eunoia JC just opened this year, offering Integrated Program to students from Catholic High, Saint Nicolas and Singapore Chinese Girls’ School. Why not simply offer the integrated program in one of the existing Junior Colleges?

An MOE spokesperson answered that, “starting an Integrated Programme school from scratch would be less challenging than integrating the programme into an existing JC.” Right.

While MOE insists that every school is a good school all the time, the fact is that a better school will  get priority over a good school—except when it is time to go. We see this happening in this merger exercise. Perhaps that is one reason why despite MOE’s insistence that every school is a good school, RI and Hwa Chong remain at the top of everyone’s joint admission exercise list.