Singapore

Mixed reactions on schools with no Sec 1 intake next year

Seven schools will not get a Sec 1 cohort next year. TAN TAM MEI (tammei@sph.co.sg) speaks to former students of two affected schools

There were mixed reactions to the news yesterday that Siglap and Si Ling secondary schools will not get a Secondary 1 cohort next year.

For Mr Arthur Chew, the president of the Siglapian Alumni Association, it was like hearing about the death of a family member.

The 56-year-old subcontractor, who is also on the school's advisory committee, heard rumours on Tuesday morning, a day before the Ministry of Education (MOE) announcement yesterday, and had hoped it would not be true.

Mr Chew, who completed his studies at Siglap in 1975, said: "I had hoped that it would not materialise because it has implications for the future of the school and can demoralise existing students and teachers."

But he understood the ministry's reason, saying that the decreasing population of secondary school-going children and the resultant smaller intake makes sense.

"We will have to bite the bullet and move forward, but of course that's easier said than done. There is a lot of sentimental value and no matter how good a reason (MOE gives), there is still a sense of loss," said Mr Chew, who has been an active member of the association for more than 10 years.

"But what if (Siglap Secondary) doesn't get an intake the year after or in 2018? Will the school disappear eventually? I hope not."

But the association's vice-president, Mr Ting Chung Hua, 57, was more optimistic and believes things will only get better for the school.

"We shouldn't panic. While the news is shocking, I don't think this will be a prolonged problem and the school will close shop," said the odd job worker who left the school in the 1970s.

The grassroots volunteer said he sees many foreigners and permanent residents at his ward's Meet-the-People Sessions asking about places in schools for their children, so he believes that the problem of insufficient secondary school-going students will disappear in the next few years.

HEARTBROKEN

Responding to The New Paper's queries, Siglap Secondary principal Low Joo Hong said: "We will keep our focus on our current students and continue to ensure that they receive the best quality of education we can offer, as we have always done."

The former student of another school affected by the news told TNP he was heartbroken.

Mr Harold Lee, 45, who studied at Si Ling Secondary School in Marsiling, said: "I was speechless when I heard it, I am usually chatty but I had no words. I was very sad to hear it.

"I don't know what is next for the school but whatever happens, I hope it doesn't lose its identity."

The business owner attended the school for less than six months when he was in Secondary 4, but has fond memories of the teachers and ex-principal Bhajan Singh.

Mr Lee, who was expelled from his previous schools because he played truant and got into fights, said: "I was sacked from two schools and several others refused to accept me. Si Ling (Secondary) was the only one which accepted me just a few months before my O levels."

He added that Si Ling is known for accepting "the most jia lat (Hokkien for terrible) students that other schools don't want".

"This school is more than just an educational institution. Once upon a time we were rejects, but the school gave us a chance and I'm sure whoever the school has helped will feel the loss," said Mr Lee, who left the school in 1986.

MOE: First time schools without Sec 1

With the falling number of live births over the years, there will be a corresponding fall in demand for secondary school places, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) yesterday.

In more mature estates where the demand for places is lower, this can result in some schools having lower enrolments.

Since there will be fewer Secondary 1 students next year, seven secondary schools will not be receiving a Secondary 1 cohort, said MOE.

They are Siglap, Si Ling, Balestier Hill, Henderson, MacPherson, North View and Pioneer secondary schools.

INSUFFICIENT DEMAND

"Since MOE started to centrally post students under the S1 Posting Exercise, this is the first time that there are secondary schools that did not have sufficient demand in their area to open classes," an MOE spokesman said in an e-mail reply to The New Paper's queries.

Last year, the seven schools had on average opened three Secondary 1 classes. This year, they did not have sufficient demand to form a critical mass for classes, the ministry said.

MOE also said that about 38,600 students were successfully posted to secondary schools based on their merit and choice, and they will begin classes on Jan 4.

There has been a significant drop in the number of students enrolling in Secondary 1. (See figures above.)

As it may be challenging for low-enrolment schools to offer a wide range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities, MOE is looking into merging a number of low-enrolment schools to ensure a "critical mass" for the schools.

Details on the plans for mergers will be provided early next year.

FALLING SEC 1 ENROLMENT

48,094 2014

42,969 2015

38,600 2016

Sources: (2016) Ministry of Education, (2015, 2014) MOE'S annual Education Statistics Digest