Sunday, 23 April 2017

8 junior colleges to merge in 2019 due to falling birth rates: MOE

8 junior colleges among 28 schools to be merged in 2019
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2017

Faced with a shrinking student population, 14 schools will be folded into others by 2019 to keep school sizes feasible. For the first time, this merger exercise will include junior colleges.

Serangoon, Tampines, Innova and Jurong JCs will be absorbed by Anderson, Meridian, Yishun and Pioneer respectively, cutting the number of JCs from 23 to 19.

Seven pairs of primary schools and three pairs of secondary schools will also merge.


For some of the JCs being merged, annual intakes would have dipped to the 200-to-300 range over the next few years, compared to optimal levels of between 700 and 800, the Education Ministry (MOE) explained.


Between 1993 and 2002, births each year fell about 20 per cent from about 49,000 to 39,000. As a knock-on effect, JC intake is now expected to drop by a fifth, going from 16,000 in 2010 to 12,800 in 2019. Said Ms Liew Wei Li, director of schools at MOE: "We have thought through the various options. This is a very difficult decision. We have agonised over it. We find that we have little choice but to merge the JCs, in order that we can provide that kind of opportunities and range of choices for the students to come."




The ministry said that despite the mergers, there will be a place for every student who qualifies for JC admission. All JCs will expand to cater to more students and no teachers will lose their jobs, it added.

The four JCs which will fold into others in 2019 will not take in a fresh cohort of JC1 students next year so that students will not have to move in 2019, while the current cohorts will complete their A-level studies at the same school.

Apart from falling enrolment, schools were picked for merger based on location, to keep a good spread across the country. Hence, two JCs not offering the integrated programme were selected from each region - east, north-east, west and north - to form a merger pair.

MOE said that unless action is taken, some schools might lack the "critical mass" to offer a broader range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities.

Population demographics across various estates have also changed.

As Primary 1 demand falls in mature estates, schools have to be merged. But in newer estates, new schools may be needed. Fern Green Valley School will open next year, to meet the high demand for school places in Sengkang.

Meanwhile, dedicated spaces at the merged schools will preserve the heritage of schools that are no longer on the map.




















JC mergers not due to more choosing polys
Proportion of JC-eligible students picking polys remains steady; falling birth rate hits both JC, poly enrolment: MOE
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2017

The speculation on social media was swift: Has the polytechnic route to higher education risen so high in estimation that junior colleges have become less attractive, requiring some to be merged?

Many expressed that sentiment online following the Ministry of Education's (MOE) announcement on Thursday of its unprecedented move to combine eight JCs here in 2019.

But the numbers do not bear it out, with MOE saying at a press conference that same day that it expects the proportion of students entering JCs to hold steady. Its projected JC intake of 12,800 in 2019 - a drop of about 20 per cent from 16,000 in 2010 - was based on trends in the birth rate, though it also built in a buffer to accommodate any fluctuations.

In fact, polytechnics have also been hit by falling birth rates, according to the ministry, with student enrolment in polytechnics dropping by a fifth from a few years ago as well. Each of the five polytechnics enrols about 4,000 secondary school leavers yearly.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, MOE said the proportion of post-secondary students who chose JCs or the Millennia Institute through the available routes, including direct school admissions and the Integrated Programme (IP), remained at about 41 per cent in the last five years. About 53 per cent chose a polytechnic, while 6 per cent or so entered the Institute of Technical Education.

A minority will take both paths. About 1 per cent of students enrol in polytechnic after JC, while about 0.5 per cent go the other way.



Over the past decade, the proportion of students who are eligible for JC but choose to go to polytechnics has remained at around 32 per cent to 34 per cent. Still, Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, noted it was "not uncommon" now to see potential JC students choosing the more skills-based education of a polytechnic, given the expanded range of post-secondary options.

Such a trend is "not necessarily a negative development in view of the Government's SkillsFuture call for a greater balance between academic and vocational skills pursuits", she said.

However, some parents viewed it as an elitist move, questioning why only non-IP government JCs were merged, while other IP schools and government-aided JCs were spared. While MOE said schools were selected to ensure an even geographical spread of JCs, and that some of those affected had been hit by falling enrolment, not all were convinced.

A 43-year-old programmer with two children, who wanted to be known only as Mr C.J. Tay, said it was a pity JCs like Serangoon and Meridian had to be merged. "They have put in a lot of effort to raise the reputation of the schools despite being newcomers. It could become a vicious circle for them if they fail to attract students after they merge."
























School mergers reflect falling birth rates
But help preserve alumni and teachers' bonds with schools as they give sense of belonging
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2017

I recall covering the big news in August 2001, when the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced plans to open four junior colleges and a fifth polytechnic by 2005. Then, the new institutions were being built to cater to the increasing number of students making it to post-secondary education.

The MOE also had to cater to the bumper crop of 52,000 Dragon Year babies, born in 1988, who were due to enter the junior colleges and polytechnics in 2005.

Fast forward 16 years, and Singapore is faced with a different scenario due to the decline in birth rates. The MOE yesterday announced that shrinking school cohorts require it to merge 28 schools in 2019, including, for the first time, junior colleges.



Serangoon, Tampines, Innova and Jurong junior colleges will be absorbed into Anderson, Meridian, Yishun and Pioneer respectively, cutting the current number of junior colleges from 23 to 19. Seven pairs of secondary schools and three pairs of primary schools will also be merged.

Declining birth rates have had a knock-on effect on enrolments - first at primary schools, then secondary schools and now junior colleges. Junior college intake is expected to drop by a fifth, from 16,000 in 2010 to 12,800 in 2019.

Past and present students are likely to ask if the smaller cohorts could just have translated into smaller, instead of fewer, schools.

However, as the MOE explained, schools need a certain critical mass to be able to offer a good range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities to students. For some of the affected junior colleges, enrolments could have fallen to as low as 200 to 300 students within the next few years - and this is simply untenable.

Still, the mergers will disappoint some alumni. For instance, Jurong Junior College has a long history. The ninth junior college to be established, it took in its first students in 1981. And it has since developed a rich heritage. It is hailed as one of the birthplaces of xinyao, the music movement of Mandarin Singapore songs during the 1980s.

Merged schools will have a heritage space to display their past links. But it is small consolation to some alumni, who are already calling for their school names to be incorporated into the new names. The MOE said the names of the merged schools will be announced later.

It is important to recognise the sense of attachment that students and teachers feel, and look at how the bonds can be preserved as they are among the many links that give Singaporeans a sense of belonging.

Ideally, one would want mergers to be kept to the minimum but, in the face of declining birth rates, the best one can hope for is that the exercises are carried out with minimum disruption.



This latest merger drives home the reality of declining birth rates. Eventually, there will be an impact on the tertiary institutions, but perhaps they may be buffered by the SkillsFuture movement, which encourages Singaporeans to head back to universities and polytechnics to upgrade their skills and knowledge. On the other hand, the emphasis on skills may mean that some could give junior colleges and university education a miss altogether.

The falling birth rate may not be the most immediate concern for Singaporeans caught up with the concerns of daily living. Still, its impact is bound to be felt when one's alma mater has to be closed, while more hospitals and nursing homes for the aged are opened.

But as the opening lines of Jurong Junior College's school song say:

"The road unwinds before us

And we must venture on..."





Ask Sandra: JC mergers
The Straits Times received many questions regarding the junior college mergers announced on Thursday. Here are the answers.
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2017


Q: My daughter is in Serangoon JC, which will be merged with Anderson JC in 2019. She is in JC1 this year and will move on to JC2 next year. I am worried about disruptions that might affect her A-level preparations.

A: MOE has ensured there will be minimal disruptions. The four JCs that are slated to move - Serangoon, Innova, Jurong and Tampines - will not take in JC1 students next year. Their JC2 students will also take their A-level exams in the same school.

There may be some staff movements, but it is likely their JC1 teachers will move up with them to JC2. Some co-curricular and sports activities, though, may be jointly run with the JCs that they are merging with.


Q: With fewer JCs after the mergers, I am worried that my son will have a hard time getting into a JC of his choice.

A: Instead of 23 JCs, students graduating from secondary school next year will have a choice of 19. But all students who qualify for JC will be given a place.All JCs, including those offering the Integrated Programme, will also expand to cater to more students. For example, Anderson JC may take in 800 to 850 students, instead of the current 750.

One can expect that with bigger intakes, it may be easier to enter the more competitive JCs. Also, based on birth figures, it is likely that fewer O-level school leavers will be competing for JC places next year.





Q: I am upset that my alma mater Innova JC will disappear, while Yishun which is much older will stay. How did MOE decide which JCs should move?

A: JCs picked for merger are the ones most likely to be affected by falling enrolments. There is also a need to ensure a good spread of JCs across the island, said MOE.

An MOE spokesman said while Yishun JC's building may be older, it is more conveniently located.

Innova, MOE said, is located too far north. The Yishun site may also be upgraded after the merger.


Q: Why did MOE start Eunoia JC this year if JC enrolments have been falling? Why could it not have offered the Integrated Programme that Eunoia offers in an existing JC?

A: The rationale for starting Eunoia JC was not to increase capacity, but to provide an Integrated Programme for students from Catholic High School, Singapore Chinese Girls' School and CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School. MOE also said that starting an Integrated Programme school from scratch would be less challenging than integrating the programme into an existing JC.





School mergers 2019: RI and other JCs may take in more students next year
This is because four of the junior colleges slated for merger will not be admitting new students
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2017

The more popular junior colleges, including the likes of Raffles Institution (RI) and Hwa Chong Institution, are prepared to take in more students next year.

That is when four junior colleges - Jurong, Innova, Serangoon and Tampines - will stop taking in new students ahead of their mergers with other JCs in 2019. Halting enrolment will help cut the need for students to physically relocate to another site.

Since this leaves a smaller number of JCs for this year's O-level students to choose from, schools may have to expand their intakes, said the Ministry of Education (MOE), which has given the assurance that every student who qualifies for JC admission will have a place.

For example, Anderson JC may take in 800 to 850 students, instead of the current 750 or so.

Even JCs offering the through- train Integrated Programme (IP) may be asked to take in more students entering via the O levels. "For instance, we are likely to ask RI to take a bit more, based on demand," said an MOE spokesman.

At a press conference yesterday, the ministry announced that it is merging 28 schools in 2019, including eight JCs, in response to the shrinking number of students due to Singapore's declining birth rate.

It is necessary to merge the schools so that they would have the critical mass to offer a range of programmes and subject combinations.

At the press conference, MOE explained why it had decided to build two new JCs in the last decade or so.

In 2005, Innova JC (IJC) opened in Woodlands. Then in 2010, MOE announced plans for Eunoia Junior College, which started taking in students this year. Currently occupying a holding site in Mount Sinai, Eunoia will occupy a campus in Sin Ming that will be ready in late 2019.

The MOE spokesman said IJC was built to cater to birth spikes in the past and the resultant demand, as well as to add JC spaces in the northern region of Singapore, which had only Yishun JC then. As for Eunoia, which offers the IP, MOE said it is part of a wider move to give students more options.

Some people are questioning why only non-IP government schools were selected for merger, while IP schools and government-aided mission schools such as Catholic JC (CJC) and St Andrew's JC were spared.

MOE said government-aided schools, which have a degree of autonomy over the programmes they offer, are different legal entities with different governance frameworks, and this would complicate the merger process.

It added that most of the JCs picked are the ones most affected by falling enrolments. There is also a need to ensure a good spread of JCs across the island. Merging Innova with Yishun, Tampines with Meridian, Jurong with Pioneer, and Serangoon with Anderson means there is one non-IP government JC in the north, east, west and north- east respectively.

Ease of access was another key consideration. Yishun JC's building may be older than Innova's but it was chosen as the site of the merged school as it is more conveniently located. Innova, MOE explained, is located too far north. The Yishun site may also be upgraded after the merger.

Speaking to reporters after the press briefing, MOE's director of schools Liew Wei Li said the merged schools will continue to offer all special programmes, such as language elective programmes, currently offered by the affected JCs.

She admitted that this merger exercise was particularly challenging as it involved JCs for the first time. She said: "School spirit is so high, we have to be very sensitive... (and) very careful about such things."










No teacher will lose job: MOE
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2017

Some were dismayed. But for many of the teachers who were told yesterday morning that their schools were going to be merged in 2019, there was little surprise. They had been hearing rumours about the move since late last year.

The teachers were officially told of the changes before the public announcement by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which has assured them that no one will be retrenched.

Staff at an affected junior college, for instance, received an e-mail at 9am yesterday, asking them to attend a meeting two hours later. One teacher said there was a "sense of anxiety and sadness" at the session. She added some of the concerns raised included where staff will go. "It can be quite unsettling. We know we won't lose our jobs, but we are also concerned about adjusting to a new environment."

Affected teachers will be posted to the merged school or redeployed to other schools or the MOE headquarters.

Some may also be posted to teach at other school levels - for instance, moving from a junior college to a secondary school. They will be provided with bridging courses and networking sessions, to equip them with the competencies and content knowledge to make the switch.



Some lessons were briefly suspended yesterday at several affected schools to inform teachers and students about the upcoming mergers.

Apprehension was felt not only at the schools which are set to move.

Mrs Tan-Kek Lee Yong, principal of Pioneer JC, which will merge with Jurong JC, spoke to about 150 staff for about an hour in the lecture theatre, where concerns about school identity, programmes offered, and academic standards were addressed.

She told The Straits Times that the mood was quite positive. She will conduct one-on-one sessions with staff from today to hear their concerns.

The Singapore Teachers' Union said any transfer would not be easy, "especially for teachers who had been teaching in the same school for a long time". It added that there "ought to be a fair representation of key personnel from both schools in the merged entities". The union will offer assistance for its members who face issues with deployment.

Many teachers understood the need for the merger, given the falling birth rates. One told The Straits Times that due to declining enrolment at her school, it was not as easy to implement some educational programmes and co-curricular activities.

"Students won't be short-changed," she said. "They will get opportunities to try out more subject combinations, for instance."

Still, she felt that it would have been better if staff had been informed earlier, especially with rumours causing some worry. "I feel a bit disappointed that we were left in the dark for such a long time," she said.










Past and present students voice concern about impact
By Annabeth Leow and Selina Xu, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2017

The new junior colleges to emerge from the 2019 mergers will be even stronger schools - this is the rallying cry of Jurong Junior College (JJC) principal Hang Kim Hoo.

With JJC slated to move to the Pioneer JC site, he highlighted how his school offers the Chinese Language Elective Programme, while the other JC has one for Malay.

"It's almost like this new JC is going to be the West Zone centre of excellence for mother tongue language elective programmes!" he said, urging students to look on the bright side of the mergers.

With Jurong, Innova, Serangoon and Tampines junior colleges set to stop taking in new students next year, this has raised concerns among JC1 students. Will they get to run orientation camps as seniors next year, and what about team sports and uniformed co-curricular activities (CCAs)? Dr Hang raised the possibility of JJC working with Pioneer by combining CCAs next year.

Innova already has a head start. Its principal Michael de Silva said: "We have been working with Yishun JC, our partner college, on possibilities of even having combined teams - not only in sports, but also in the Singapore Youth Festival."



Still, many students whom The Straits Times spoke to were disappointed by news of the mergers. JJC's Christabel Lee, 16, said: "We won't have juniors next year. If we want to be an OGL (orientation group leader), we will have to go to a 'foreign' school to do it."

Schoolmate Ang Hua Bin, also 16, said he would have considered applying for a different junior college if he had known of the merger last year. "They should have told us earlier," he rued. "Not when we've been here only two months."

Christabel said she was "twice as sad" over the JJC merger, as she is an alumna of Shuqun Secondary, which will move to Yuhua Secondary.

Alumni of the affected JCs also expressed some concern.

Serangoon JC's alumni association will hold a dialogue for members next month. "With close to 30 batches of graduates in the SRJC alumni, there will be a high level of interest to understand the rationale, implementation and impact of such a merger," its statement said.



JJC alumnus Kenneth Sng, 24, who is a Public Service Commission scholarship holder, said: "Frankly, I am sad to hear that my alma mater will be merged with another school."

He made the news last year when he delivered the opening remarks as the student union president of Washington University in St Louis, at a debate featuring then US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. "But I understand MOE's rationale and I hope the decades-long heritage will be preserved in some form in the new junior college," Mr Sng added.

Drinks stall operator Alice Lim, 54, who has been with Innova JC since it opened in 2005, was worried about business next year, with the student population being halved.

"We need to earn a living so it's definitely not happy news, but I will still continue serving the school, and hopefully in 2019, there will be new canteen vendor positions that I can apply for," she said.























Planning for fewer students
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Apr 2017

Declining birth rates have had a knock-on effect on school enrolments - first on primary schools, then secondary schools and, now, junior colleges.

Last Thursday, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that shrinking school cohorts require it to merge 28 schools in 2019, including, for the first time, junior colleges.

Serangoon, Tampines, Innova and Jurong junior colleges will be absorbed into Anderson, Meridian, Yishun and Pioneer respectively, cutting the current number of junior colleges from 23 to 19. Seven pairs of secondary schools and three pairs of primary schools will also be merged.

Between 1993 and 2002, births each year fell about 20 per cent, from about 49,000 to 39,000. As a result, the junior college intake is now expected to drop by a fifth, going from 16,000 in 2010 to 12,800 in 2019.

But falling enrolments do not seem to be an issue for universities just yet. Today, universities are expanding because more Singaporeans are aspiring to degree education and qualifying for their courses.

The Government has also pledged to raise the cohort participation rate by 2020, to allow 40 per cent of an age group to study for a degree at the local universities.

But when the MOE made the pledge to raise the participation rate, it did say that, even if it did not expand the number of places, the cohort participation rate would rise by a few percentage points because of the shrinking school cohorts.

For now, tertiary institutions may also be buffered by the SkillsFuture movement, which encourages Singaporeans to head back to universities and polytechnics to upgrade their skills and knowledge.

But there will come a time when universities will feel the effect of falling birth rates - in the same way that they will eventually affect other sectors, including healthcare, defence and the economy.

Policymakers have to think hard and plan ahead for the implications that the declining birth rate will have in areas beyond education.






No economies of scale if schools not merged

Population growth is difficult to predict, as unforeseen events can alter birth and death rates as well as immigration numbers (Look at birth trends when planning for education, by Mr Ong Kim Lee; April 24).

Government policies may also have an impact.

We should look at the school mergers holistically (8 junior colleges among 28 schools to be merged; April 21).

Without mergers, the problems of diseconomies of scale will grow.

It is the duty of our Government to make sure every dollar spent is spent wisely, and that could mean implementing unpopular measures to improve outcomes.

Many countries consolidate schools so the state can deploy limited resources with efficiency.

More importantly, with economies of scale from these mergers, schools and students will have opportunities to conduct a wider range of programmes. Stabilised class sizes allow teachers to further expand the use of technology.

Perhaps the Ministry of Education can deploy the same teachers to the merged schools, so students will not feel at a complete loss in the merged schools.

Francis Cheng
ST Forum, 27 Apr 2017





Whole range of factors considered in school mergers

We thank the various Forum writers for their feedback on the Ministry of Education's (MOE) plans to merge schools.

Our students' learning and their learning environment remain our top priority. We considered several options before arriving at this difficult but necessary decision to merge schools.

When enrolment is too low, our students will not be able to enjoy the same holistic range of learning experiences, in terms of subject combinations, educational programmes and co-curricular activities. This is not something that we can compromise on.

Beyond size of enrolment, the pairs of schools were chosen based on a number of factors: proximity to housing developments, accessibility by public transport, and infrastructure. The potential complexity of integration - for example, the different governance framework for government and government-aided schools - was also considered.

School enrolment is a different issue from student-teacher ratio. As we merge schools, we are committed to retain and redeploy all the affected teachers.

We will continue to take a needs-based approach in doing so. In recent years, we have been able to deploy more teachers to help students with greater learning needs. We believe in doing so across all schools, not just for low-enrolment schools.

Having to merge schools does not mean no more new schools. We need new schools in newer estates. We should also be open to starting new schools that can offer a different and valuable educational experience for our students.

This is why in spite of falling birth rates, we started Eunoia Junior College, which had its first Integrated Programme intake of Secondary 1 students in 2013, for students who would benefit from such programmes. 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.

We would like to give 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.

Admission will continue to be by merit, and the previous year's admission scores are only a reference for potential applicants and do not constitute the admission scores for subsequent admission exercises.

MOE will continue to engage alumni, staff and other stakeholders to perpetuate the rich heritage and history of our schools through the cohorts of students to come.

Liew Wei Li (Ms)
Deputy Director-General of Education and Director of Schools
Ministry of Education
ST Forum, 28 Apr 2017
















School mergers 'painful but needed': Ng Chee Meng
Due to falling birth rate, if nothing is done, some schools will be half-filled, says minister
By Yuen Sin and Lydia Lam, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2017

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






* No plans to merge polytechnics, universities or ITE campuses: Ong Ye Kung
Institutes of higher learning still have critical mass of students despite falling cohort sizes
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 6 May 2017

There are no plans to merge polytechnics, universities or the campuses of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) even though cohort sizes are falling, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung has said.

This is because despite falling cohort sizes of between 10 and 15 per cent, these institutions still have a critical mass of students.

He was speaking to Singapore reporters on Thursday night (Friday Singapore time) at the St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland, where he was on a four-day working visit.

Mr Ong noted that questions had been raised over whether institutes of higher learning would merge, after the Education Ministry announced last month that eight junior colleges (JCs) would merge in 2019 because of falling cohort sizes.

He said: "The situation for ITE, polytechnics and universities is quite different from JCs'."

Illustrating his point, Mr Ong said the ITE currently has an intake of about 15,000 across its three campuses. Even if demographic changes mean this number could go down by 10 to 12 per cent by 2020 or 2025, "with three campuses we will (still) see a good critical mass".

The situation with the five polytechnics and six universities - which have an intake of 24,500 and 19,000 students each year respectively - is similar, he said. Cohort sizes are projected to fall between 10 and 15 per cent by 2025, but the polytechnics and universities would still have a critical mass.



Universities also educate students at a "fairly specialised level" and do not need a big critical mass, he added. He cited, as an example, the Singapore University of Technology and Design ,which has an intake of 500 to 600 students a year.

"That alone is enough for a niche university that is focused on design and tech," he said, adding that falling cohort sizes could mean that there would be more colleges and programmes "focused on certain areas" in future.

"There is in fact an argument that because cohorts are falling, to make up for the quantity of talent, you actually need more diversity, more pathways in order to bring out the full potential of the limited talent we have," he said, adding that this is the direction higher education is heading.

Asked if it was cost-effective to maintain the same number of institutions despite falling cohort sizes, Mr Ong said: "You can have something that is small and beautiful, not everything has to be large and full of economies of scale. At the university level I think this is the reality."

Mr Ong added that while general education required a critical mass of students, this was not the case for institutes of higher learning that educate students in niche areas.

He also had a short dialogue on higher education with participants of the annual symposium, which is attended by business and government leaders, as well as students and young professionals.

Mr Ong said there was "curiosity" from participants on the education system in Singapore, which they held in high regard. "But we must continue to improve, because the economy is changing, the world is changing. The young are growing up with different expectations, hopes and dreams, and we must help them fulfil their potential."

Mr Ong also met Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, who heads Switzerland's Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, visited various institutions of higher learning and companies, and met students from the Singapore Management University who are on exchange at the University of St Gallen. He left for Singapore yesterday.










** Parliament: Help on the way for teachers affected by school mergers
Bridging courses, lighter workloads will help them adjust
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2017

Teachers affected by upcoming school mergers will be given bridging courses and lighter teaching loads where possible, said Senior Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary, as redeployed teachers were once again assured that they would not be retrenched.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Dr Puthucheary said the bridging courses will help equip the affected teachers with the competencies and content knowledge to make the switch, while the lighter loads would give them time and space to adjust.

Seven backbenchers asked about school and junior college mergers during what was Parliament's first opportunity to debate the issue.

Besides querying how the Ministry of Education (MOE) decides on school mergers, the MPs also asked how teaching staff can be prepared for the move.



In April this year, MOE announced that due to a shrinking student population, 14 schools will be folded into others by 2019 to keep school sizes feasible. For the first time, this merger exercise will include junior colleges.

Serangoon, Tampines, Innova and Jurong JCs will be absorbed by Anderson, Meridian, Yishun and Pioneer respectively, cutting the number of JCs from 23 to 19.

MOE had also announced that seven pairs of primary schools and three pairs of secondary schools will merge as well.

Dr Puthucheary said besides the bridging courses, affected teachers will also have the opportunity to be attached to their new schools before their formal postings begin. After they have been posted, MOE will continue to support these teachers through regular engagement sessions.

Redeployed teachers will also be paired with mentor teachers while schools, where possible, have been asked to adjust their workload.

He reiterated MOE's rationale for merging schools.

He said: "We recognise that school mergers are painful for students, staff and alumni, but they are necessary. Without mergers, some schools will be facing such low enrolment that they will not be able to provide our students with the array of subject combinations, co-curricular activities, and enrichment programmes that they deserve."

Dr Puthucheary said in the case of junior colleges, the intake is projected to fall by 20 per cent - from 16,000 students in 2010 to around 12,800 students in 2019.

"This fall of 3,200 JC1 students is equal to the intake for four typical JCs. If MOE does not take any action now, several of our JCs would find themselves with JC1 intake of below 400, less than half of the typical 800.

"Some would even struggle to fill 200 places. When this happens, the educational experience of the students enrolled in these JCs will be severely compromised," he explained.

In response to some MPs who asked if other options were considered, he said one option considered was to retain schools even when enrolment has fallen. Co-curricular programmes can be run at a cluster or regional level by bringing together students from various schools.

However, MOE decided against it as staff and students would face operational challenges such as timetabling constraints, and the need to travel between different schools for activities.



He also addressed the concern among some parents and students that fewer junior colleges would mean stiffer competition for places. He said the cut-off points may vary slightly next year following the mergers, but gave the assurance that every student who qualifies for junior college admission will have a place.

MOE plans to increase the JC1 student intake for the remaining junior colleges so that there are sufficient places.





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