School’s Out: How Singapore Keeps University Reserved for the Elites

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Cutting back

The closure and merging of the junior colleges was also met with much unhappiness.

The official reasoning that the government gave for the mergers was that they were planned “based on geographical proximity so as to maintain a good spread of schools across the country.” However, an analysis done by the blog ConsensusSG showed that the top-ranking schools were shielded from the merger. The blog also pointed out that the MOE’s reason for the mergers was unconvincing as, “why are Hwa Chong JC and National JC not being merged? They are across the road to each other.

“What made them so special such that they were exempt? When will the Ministry finally admit that it does not, and has never treated its schools equally?” it queried.

The blog added: “the problem is that JC education has always been seen as exclusive and elitist to begin with and this sordid merger makes it even more exclusive and elitist.”

But former Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng, who was not elected but nominated, chimed in on his own Facebook page. He said: “the Government may need to avoid sounding elitist but I don’t.”

“In choosing which JCs to close, one has to go with the least popular JCs. That is, the ones with the highest cut off points. Elite JCs are highly competitive – there will always be more demand than supply.

“Civil servants won’t be able to give you this reply of course. But it’s the truth,” he added.

It took a week after the announcement of the mergers before Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng – yes, there are two ministers for education in Singapore – finally responded on his Facebook. A commenter responded to his Facebook post.

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“I think the big question in everyone’s mind is why are we closing down 4 JCs when our Minister Ng has announced the name of our latest JC just a little more than 16 months ago in Dec 2015. Has our cohort intake changed so much in 16 months that we went from opening a new JC to closing 4?” Tan Kee Hian asked.

Tan was referring to the new Eunoia Junior College which opened this year.

Responding to the contradictions with merging eight junior colleges while opening a new one at the same time, the MOE’s reply to Singapore newspaper The New Paper was that, “rather than to increase capacity, the school’s Integrated Programme gives students more options.” According to the MOE, the Integrated Programme is offered to students who are “academically strong.”

However, Cheng gave a more in-your-face answer: “Why the new JC Eunoia? It’s not a normal JC. It is being set up as another elite JC to take in IP students from several elite secondary schools.”

But “isn’t every school supposed to be a good school?” Mona Cheah responded to Cheng’s remarks, referring to Prime Minister Lee’s remarks at Singapore’s National Day Rally 2013 where the latter said: “We make sure that the whole [education] system is of a high standard. Every school is a good school.”

But Cheng had an easy answer to Cheah: “Every school is a good school. But some schools are better schools. That’s obvious isn’t it?”

This reminds us of then-Jurong West Secondary School (JWSS) vice-principal Pushparani Nadarajah’s rebuttal to Lee when she said: “How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it).”

In the end, the truth is that not every school is a good school.

And the Singapore government does not want every Singaporean to have an equal opportunity at higher education in local public universities.

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