Eight primary schools and 10 secondary schools will be merged over three years, from 2022 to 2024, owing to decline birth rates and changing demographics within housing estates across Singapore, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Wednesday (7 April).
In a statement, the MOE announced that the schools identified for mergers were based on several factors including enrolment trends, geographical proximity of the schools to be merged, suitability of merger and the receiving schools’ infrastructure capacities.
First to be merged, ahead of all the other schools, are Juying Primary School (JYPS) and Pioneer Primary School (PPS) in 2022 to make way for the Jurong Region Line (JRL) MRT extension which will run through PPS, said MOE. The merged school will therefore operate at JYPS.
Later in 2025, however, the merged school will be relocated to a new site in the Plantation District of Tengah.
As such, this merged school will not admit new primary one students at the temporary site from 2022 to 2024. Instead, the first batch of primary one students will only be enrolled after the relocation to Tengah. The last batch of primary six students are due to graduate in 2026.
Of the remaining 16 schools, 14 will merge in 2023 while two will merge in 2024.
This includes Eunos Primary School and Telok Kurau Primary School; Farrer Park Primary School and Stamford Primary School; Guangyang Primary School and Townsville Primary School; Bedok Green Secondary School and Ping Yi Secondary School; Chua Chu Kang Secondary School and Teck Whye Secondary School; Fajar Secondary School and Greenridge Secondary School; New Town Secondary School and Tanglin Secondary School in 2022 and Fuchun Secondary School and Woodlands Ring Secondary School in 2024.
MOE said in its statement that the key consideration in deciding to merge schools was “to be responsive to changing demographics and community needs, whilst providing an optimal student experience,” adding that it is working closely with the affected schools to ensure a smooth transition.
MOE also noted that there would be no retrenchment of MOE staff as a result of the mergers, and that the names of the merged schools would be announced at a later date.
About 68 schools have been merged since 2010, including eight junior colleges in 2019, said MOE. In that period, 3 new schools have opened, a majority of which are located in newer housing estates such as Punggol and Sengkang.
This announcement of school mergers comes just a month after Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim raised the issue of class size in schools, noting that Singapore has one of the highest average class sizes in primary and secondary schools among advanced nations.
Speaking in Parliament on 3 March during the Committee of Supply debate, Assoc. Prof Lim suggested that the class size should be limited to a maximum of about 23 people, believing that this will help reduce the need for and dependence on additional private education fees, and also provide a more level playing field while reducing the burden on teachers.
While MOE’s announcement of school mergers did not address how this would affect class sizes in the merged schools, it a factor that is worth questioning.
In March, Education Minister Lawrence Wong had responded to Assoc. Prof Lim’s suggestion by stating that the ratio of pupils to teachers in primary and secondary schools has improved in the past 10 years – from 19 to 16 in 2010 to 15 to 12 in recent years.
The Minister pointed out that although the number of teachers has declined slightly in recent years, it has remained roughly at around 32,000. Therefore, he argued that the number of teachers should be compared with the number of enrolled students.
However, in a response to a forum letter on local Chinese mainstream media Lianhe Zaobao which refuted the WP MP’s position on the matter, Assoc. Prof Lim stressed, “But no matter how strong the lineup of teachers, no matter how outstanding the teachers are, once faced with a heavy workload, they will definitely struggle.”
He reiterated his views that the small class system allows teachers to concentrate better on teaching.
He went on to point out that Singapore has an average class size of 33 students, compared to South Korea and Japan which has an average of 25 students per class. In developed countries, that average is lower at just 20 students.
“Of course, some schools run extracurricular tuition classes and while some classes with a small number of students, and some have nearly 40 students. Although Singapore’s teacher-student ratio is close to the average of other developed economies, it is still on the high side,” said Assoc. Prof Lim.
So the question we should be asking in relation to these planned mergers of primary and secondary schools is, how would this affect the average class size in those merged schools? And is this something the MOE took into consideration when planning this move?