News

Air-con in school 
not so cool any more

Schools are 
urged to use 
air-conditioning prudently and to exercise the option to operate with fans where possible.

- An Education Ministry spokesman

tnp@sph.com.sg

Some schools sell themselves on their academic achievements. Others tout their sporting excellence.

But for government-aided Yuying Secondary in Hougang, air-conditioned classrooms were its unique selling point.

On the school's website, air-conditioning for its hall and classrooms for upper secondary students was listed as one of the top reasons parents should send their children there, together with school-based cash awards for academic excellence and additional mathematics offered to all Secondary 3 students.

But now, Yuying has had to cut back on its air-con usage, as the Ministry of Education (MOE) urges schools to watch their energy consumption.

Students told The New Paper that they are now allowed to switch on the air-con in class only in the mornings to cool the room. For the rest of the day, they have to make do with fans.

When contacted by TNP, the school said some of the air-conditioners were provided by the contractors who were constructing its indoor sports hall a few years ago.

"Air-conditioning was used in some of our classrooms near the sports hall as we found that the noise level from the hall affected lessons in the nearby classrooms," said Ms Ho Ping Ping, Yuying's vice-principal.

After the sports hall was completed, the school kept the air-conditioners but usage was cut. For example, only one out of two air-con units in each classroom is turned on.

Earlier this month, The Straits Times had reported that funding to some Independent Schools had been cut and they had been told by the MOE to cut down air-con usage in classrooms and install fans instead.

This stirred up much debate among parents over whether schools needed to be air-conditioned, with even former People's Action Party election candidate Koh Poh Koon commenting about the issue on social media.

In Parliament yesterday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat explained that the decision behind the funding change is not to "level down." (See report below.)

Others had also asked why only Independent Schools were targeted by the ministry when some government schools also had air-conditioned classrooms.

But TNP found that even mainstream schools have been told to cut back on their air-con usage.

Besides Yuying, Punggol Secondary School students said that air-con usage in classrooms had been cut. According to them, the air-con is turned on at 11am and turned off by 2pm. Fans are then turned on.

When asked by TNP, an MOE spokesman said that all classrooms are meant to be "naturally ventilated". The cost of using air-con in individual schools will come out of each school's operating budget.

NOISE MITIGATION

MOE did not reveal how many schools had air-conditioned classrooms but said some schools were provided with air-con due to "site-specific considerations". For example, some schools are beside construction sites and air-conditioned rooms were necessary for noise mitigation.

It was reported in The Straits Times in 2011 that some schools had air-conditioned classrooms for various reasons.

For example, all classrooms in Punggol Secondary are air-conditioned to beat the heat and also the construction noise from upcoming housing blocks. There is now an ongoing construction of a condominium next to the school.

But the MOE spokesman said: "Schools are urged to use air-conditioning prudently and to exercise the option to operate with fans where possible."

Several Independent Schools, such as NUS High School of Mathematics and Science and Nanyang Girls' High, said their classrooms were air-conditioned. Raffles Institution said it is in the midst of installing fans in its classrooms.

INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS
FUND CUT NOT LEVELLING DOWN

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday that the funding changes to independent schools are not an attempt to "level down".

Earlier this month, it was reported that several independent schools will face a cut in funding. Other changes include reducing the use of air-conditioned classrooms.

The news initially drew mixed reactions, with former People's Action Party candidate Koh Poh Koon calling the curb in air-con use "illogical". In a Facebook post this month, he said: "It's like saying instead of making it comfortable for all students, we have decided to make it equally uncomfortable for everyone... We must not be tempted to ensure equality in society by pulling down those at the top."

NEW FUND FORMULA

But Mr Heng explained yesterday that the changes were due to a new funding formula, which has a fixed and variable component.

Previously, every independent school was given the same amount of grant per student, which did not take into account economies of scale. It resulted in schools with large enrolment receiving disproportionately higher funding relative to schools with lower enrolment.

Mr Heng also revealed that funding has increased per student. For instance, the per capita cost of educating a primary school pupil increased from $3,600 in 2004 to $8,700 last year. For secondary education, it increased from about $5,700 to $10,800.

The issue of air-conditioned classrooms was also raised by Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng, who asked the Ministry of Education to identify schools which have 80 per cent of classrooms air-conditioned. Mr Ang also wanted to know if the operating of air-con units will be funded under the new formula.

Mr Heng did not provide figures on schools with such classrooms but he revealed that this issue arose when independent schools reviewed how to invest their resources effectively to achieve good educational outcomes.

"We discussed with schools the judicious use of air-conditioning as we strive to be ecologically sustainable and cost-effective in operating our schools," said Mr Heng.

- Linette Heng

Independent schools, Fund cut not levelling down

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday that the funding changes to independent schools are not an attempt to "level down".

Earlier this month, it was reported that several independent schools will face a cut in funding. Other changes include reducing the use of air-conditioned classrooms.

The news initially drew mixed reactions, with former People's Action Party candidate Koh Poh Koon calling the curb in air-con use "illogical". In a Facebook post this month, he said: "It's like saying instead of making it comfortable for all students, we have decided to make it equally uncomfortable for everyone... We must not be tempted to ensure equality in society by pulling down those at the top."

NEW FUND FORMULA

But Mr Heng explained yesterday that the changes were due to a new funding formula, which has a fixed and variable component.

Previously, every independent school was given the same amount of grant per student, which did not take into account economies of scale. It resulted in schools with large enrolment receiving disproportionately higher funding relative to schools with lower enrolment.

Mr Heng also revealed that funding has increased per student. For instance, the per capita cost of educating a primary school pupil increased from $3,600 in 2004 to $8,700 last year. For secondary education, it increased from about $5,700 to $10,800.

The issue of air-conditioned classrooms was also raised by Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng, who asked the Ministry of Education to identify schools which have 80 per cent of classrooms air-conditioned. Mr Ang also wanted to know if the operating of air-con units will be funded under the new formula.

Mr Heng did not provide figures on schools with such classrooms but he revealed that this issue arose when independent schools reviewed how to invest their resources effectively to achieve good educational outcomes.

"We discussed with schools the judicious use of air-conditioning as we strive to be ecologically sustainable and cost-effective in operating our schools," said Mr Heng.

- Linette Heng