June 25, 2017

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junior college

by Erin Chua 

LOOK at this chart. It seems that there is a more accurate predictor of junior college enrolment than birth rates, which was the reason cited for the need to merge (or is it close?) some less-popular JCs.

The G recently announced the merging of eight JCs to form four JCs – in response to the fall in demand of around 3,200 JC places between 2010 and 2019, with the sharpest year-on-year drop expected in 2018 and 2019. As reported by The Straits Times, JC intake is now expected to drop by a fifth, going from 16,000 in 2010 to 12,800 in 2019.

Singapore’s birth rates, as the G says, are indeed declining. According to the Department of Statistics Singapore, resident birth rates fell from 18.2 in 1990 to 9.4 in 2016. Yes, there is also a fall in pre-university enrolment – from 30,726 in 2006 to 29,559 in 2015.

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Singapore-born residents alone do not account for all the students who enrol in our pre-university institutions. When we solely look at resident birth rates, we are missing out on the numbers of residents (citizens and PRs) born abroad but who have moved to Singapore, naturalised Singaporeans matriculating in our local education institutions and even international students. A closer predictor of JC enrolment trends is the change in our resident population of 15-19 years olds which include all students of JC-going age.

From 2006 to 2015, the fluctuations in our pre-university enrolment numbers are more congruent with the changes in our resident population of 15-19 year olds. The resident population and pre-university enrolment numbers thus appear to be co-related. On the other hand, the Resident Live Births (15 years ago) do not seem to share as consistent a relationship with pre-university enrolment numbers.

Resident Population Data taken from Population Trends 2016 Report by Department of Statistics Singapore, Resident Live Births taken from Department of Statistics Singapore and Pre-university Enrolment taken from Education Statistics Digest 2016 by Ministry of Education (Singapore)

So, where are all of these students going?

The fall in enrolment rates faced by some of the JCs could also be attributed to the increased availability of pre-university options. In the mid 2000s, against the backdrop of the increasing resident population of 15-19 year olds, there was a surge in pre-university programmes and institutions introduced into the local education market – possibly to meet the rise in demand for pre-university education then. Some of these developments in the local education landscape include the opening of new JCs such as Meridian JC and Innova JC, the launching of the Integrated Programme (IP) which is an integrated secondary and JC education where secondary school pupils can proceed to JC level without taking the GCE ‘O’ Level Examinations, and the introduction of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme as an alternative to the GCE ‘A’ Levels.

Resident Population taken from Population Trends 2016 Report by Department of Statistics Singapore and Pre-university Enrolment taken from Education Statistics Digest 2016 by Ministry of Education (Singapore)

Note: Pre-university Enrolment numbers from 1991 to 1999 and 2001 to 2005 are not available

The decrease in demand due to the recent fall in resident population, compounded by the high supply of pre-university options arising from the mid 2000s could possibly explain the falling enrolment rates in JC.

As to why certain schools were closed and not others – it was cited as a question of demand and popularity, but we’ll leave it to someone else to say whether it’s popularity that makes a school hard to get in to (high demand, low cut-off points), or whether low cut-off points are what makes a school a popular choice.

 

Featured image by Wikimedia Commons user Sengkang at English Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 2.5. Picture taken in 2007.

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By Bertha Henson

WHY are people getting so upset with the news of school mergers, especially at the junior college (JC) level? It’s a no-brainer right? If junior colleges are emptying out, then might as well close them now or merge. It’s such a rational, efficient thing to do. Reading the reactions, the unhappiness boils down to these nine questions.

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1. How is it that our so-efficient G can misjudge birth rates?

Well, the G keeps saying that it is based on information available at that time – and probably thought that its pro-baby policies will work. The last two JCs built were Innova which was founded in 2005 and Eunoia which opened its doors this year. So maybe if you look at the birth rate of the cohort that would enter Innova in its first year, it still looks like it can be filled. Except that later on, Singapore couples didn’t cooperate. Tsk. Tsk.

2. But that doesn’t explain Eunoia, does it?

Ah. But that’s a special JC that caters to the cohort studying in Catholic High School, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, and CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School. They will move to the JC as part of the Integrated Programme (IP).

Okay, Eunoia could have waited until next year and moved into one of the JCs’ vacated premises. Could have saved money. But it could be location as well. Eunoia is in Mount Sinai, and will move to its Bishan premises in 2019. Oh wait. Maybe it could still move into an empty campus before money is spent on yet another set of buildings…

3. So, the JCs that will be merged all don’t have IP feeder schools? What does this mean? I have to make sure my kid gets into a secondary school with IP so that they can progress right through to JC and university?

Oooh. Looks like that’s the best bet. Because JC is usually seen as the next step into university, unless your kid is a very bright polytechnic student. Through-train you know… even if this means less choice…

4. How did MOE pick the eight JCs anyway? Just because no IP?

Hmm. It says “geographical’’ distribution. So it’s about spreading them out equally. Like Meridian JC, which is in Pasir Ris, and Tampines JC. So they’re getting stuck together at the newer Meridian campus. Don’t forget that Temasek and Victoria JC are also in the east.

Then there’s Innova JC and Yishun JC merging to be on Yishun grounds. MOE said Yishun was picked because it’s more “accessible’’ than Innova, although Innova is newer. Maybe it also has to do with cut-off points. Innova is at the bottom of all 19 JCs, as reported by The Straits Times. MOE isn’t saying anything about it.

5. Wait a minute, why should cut-off points have anything to do with whether a JC disappears?

Hmmm. Guess MOE thinks there’s no point in having such poor performing JCs. Seven of the eight JCs that are merging are actually clustered at the bottom of the ladder, which means that their students aren’t, ah, as good as the rest. Elitist, but perfectly rational. Okay, there’s something to be said about preserving the school’s heritage and making alumni happy but you know what is said about “scarce’’ resources and so forth.

6. But if it is a matter of geography, Hwa Chong Institution and National JC are right across the road…

They’re IP and good performers and probably with strong alumnus that will kpkb . Just disregard what MOE said about geography, it doesn’t know how to spin doctor.

7. Why so sudden anyway? Some of the kids are already looking forward to entering JCs of their choice, especially those near their homes. Quite demoralising isn’t it?

The G will probably say that there’s never a good time to make such an announcement. If the mergers are delayed, then what are the chances that parents will allow their kids to apply for a JC that’s going to be closed? Rather than sound the death knell, just kill it off quickly.

8. That’s heartless when you think about the people who have been to the schools and have fond memories.

True. But hard truths.. hard truths.

9. Has it got to do with the G changing its mind about having more people going into university?

Well, it said it’s aiming for 40 per cent of the cohort by 2020, but it’s a declining cohort so the absolute numbers will probably remain about the same as now. Although it’s likely that when it came up with that figure, it didn’t think about the birth rate then. Or maybe it figured that the polytechnic route would also yield more university graduates. Then again, polytechnics are facing declining enrollments too. Are you thinking that this will have a knock-on effect on the capacity of our universities? That something will be done about polytechnics too?

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Joshua Lim

I HAVE to declare my interest first: I was once an 18-year-old hopeful who applied to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for a scholarship. And of course, like most hopefuls, I got rejected, without knowing why. Was my essay that lousy? Or did I lack the academic and non-academic credentials? I guess I wasn’t the only one who had such thoughts haunting me, given that the PSC awards only some 70 scholarships out of more than 2,500 applicants every year.

It is therefore interesting – and perhaps enlightening – to get an insight into what was going through the mind of an interviewer for the various PSC scholarships, and no less than that of the Chairman of the PSC. In his commentary in ST published yesterday, Mr Eddie Teo gave his views on what he thought young Singaporeans are like, especially the sort of values they hold. He made it clear that his conclusions were mainly drawn from his experiences reviewing candidates for PSC scholarships, who may not be representative of the opinions of significant sectors of the youth in Singapore.

Having said all that, I thought there were a couple of hits and misses in Mr Teo’s evaluation of the youth today.

He mentioned four negative traits he saw in those applying for PSC scholarships: poor grasp of local history, lack of interest in current and foreign affairs, being too risk-adverse and the lack of imagination and creativity. More interestingly, he talks about how the best students prefer taking the safe route by going into public service. He said he hoped that there was a process of “self selection”, in which the more creative and entrepreneurial prefer a private sector career.

I would argue it isn’t as much “self selection” as a grooming process which starts at age 16. It begins from the day your junior college decides to shortlist you as a potential applicant to the PSC. Yes, the school has been lurking in the shadows and waiting to identify those who are deemed PSC-calibre. One such example is the Sapphire’s Scholar Programme in National Junior College that identifies potential scholars and grooms them during the entire journey towards the scholarship interviews, right from their very first day in junior college.

This means that the junior college effectively determines who is suitable for the PSC. Which, of course, means that one yardstick (although certainly not the only one) employed to identify such individuals is scholastic excellence. So what if you are vocal, sharp, and are able to think critically on diverse issues ranging from good governance to the price of a plate of chicken rice?

Let’s face it: grades are the most convenient standard which schools employ to filter potential scholars from the rest of the school population. Also, while PSC states officially that strong applicants without H3 subjects would be considered, in reality the scholarship programs in junior colleges push for their potential scholars to take up a H3 subject because having one of those would be certainly beneficial to their applications. (If you’ve taken your ‘A’ Levels before 2006, you might know it as the ‘S’ Paper. If not, H3 is just an added elective subject that builds on one of your existing ‘A’ Level subject.)

The grooming process includes a provisional round, which occurs some months before the GCE ‘A’ Levels, when schools are “invited” to nominate those they deem deserving of PSC scholarships. From this provisional round, PSC processes the applications and conducts interviews with potential candidates, and then makes provisional offers to those it deems suitable. Already we see that the odds are largely stacked against those who are not earmarked by their schools.

The stakes are therefore very high for those who are earmarked as potential PSC scholars, especially the period leading up to the provisional round. They simply cannot afford to falter in building an image that the school deems suitable for scholars, first and foremost of which, is good grades. It is little wonder that they seem to have come from the same mould, with meagre knowledge about Singapore’s history, current and foreign affairs, and with the kiasi and kiasu attitude which Mr Teo hopes they will shed.

It might well be that they are filled with the necessary public-spiritedness (part of the grooming process) that defines a PSC scholar, but what of those who want to be in the public service but whose schools do not think make the grade (pardon the pun)? Why would they want to join a race in which some of their peers have already been “pre-selected”? Some of the creative and imaginative do not opt for a PSC scholarship because they do not want to belong to an exclusive organisation whose scholars fit in a particular mould. And this in turn reinforces the impression they should steer clear of institutions like the PSC in order to unleash their fullest potential.

When Mr Teo said that those not applying to PSC are probably the more entrepreneurial types who feel themselves more suited for the private sector, he might want to reconsider how the application process could be helping to churn out clones.

Here, I should make it clear that I was one of “outside” candidates who applied for the scholarship on my own, and so I might be accused of being “sour grapes”. But hand on this (still) public-spirited heart, I think the PSC should find a way of showing that it embraces all types instead of relying on schools as its first sieve in the main pipeline.

 

Featured image 8-of-the-top-colleges-offering-scholarships-for-mba-study-in-the-us by Flickr user The Chopras Global EducationPublic Domain Mark 1.0. 

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