SINGAPORE: With 18 more schools to be merged over the next three years, teachers and staff from the affected schools say they have mixed feelings about the move.
“Personally, (I had) mixed reactions because we have a long history and we also have kids who are very used to the school. With this change, they’ll need some time to adjust,” principal of Stamford Primary School Cassie Fan.
“Of course I’m also happy because the students will be able to experience a more vibrant educational experience. And there will be a wider range of educational programmes, CCAs, for them,” she told CNA.
Stamford Primary School will leave its campus when it merges with Farrer Park Primary School in 2023. The former was founded in 1951, and moved to its current location at Victoria Lane in 1986.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on Wednesday (Apr 7) that four pairs of primary schools and five pairs of secondary schools will be merged between 2022 and 2024.
"Declining birth rates and changing demographics in our housing estates have led to falling enrolment in several of our schools. At the same time, some areas are experiencing rising demand for school places," said Ms Liew Wei Li, MOE's director of schools and deputy-director general of education.
Aside from Stamford Primary and Farrer Park Primary, the other paired primary schools are Juying Primary School and Pioneer Primary School, Eunos Primary School and Telok Kurau Primary School, and Guangyang Primary School and Townsville Primary School.
The paired secondary schools are 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, and Fuchun Secondary School and Woodlands Ring Secondary School.
READ: 18 primary and secondary schools to undergo mergers due to declining birth rates, changing demographics
A LONG HISTORY
With Stamford Primary’s long history, there are staff members who have been with the school for 20 to 30 years, said Mdm Fan, who became the school’s principal in 2017.
“But we have assured them that they can still be in the merged school. They can also be transferred to another school, or go to HQ, so there are different options for them,” she told CNA.
“As in all changes, people need time to adjust … On the whole, I think the staff accepted it, and they are looking forward to working with colleagues from the other side. On the whole, it's been positive. Of course, (with) mixed feelings at this stage for the initial reaction to the news.”
The principal of Pioneer Primary Lee Wai Ling said she felt “sad” at first after receiving news that the school would be merged with Juying Primary in 2022 and leave its campus behind.
This is to “facilitate a revised alignment” of the Jurong Region Line (JRL), which will run through Pioneer Primary. Both schools are located in mature areas and enrolment has been “falling consistently” in recent years, MOE said in a press release on Wednesday.
The merged school will be temporarily housed at Juying Primary School's current site, but will eventually move to new location in Tengah Plantation district from January 2025. This will be the first primary school in Tengah, said MOE.
The merged school will not admit new Primary 1 cohorts at its temporary site from 2022 to 2024, and will only admit its first batch after relocating to the new campus in Tengah.
Existing students of the merged school will continue to study at the Juying Primary School campus after the new campus opens, and the last batch of Primary 6 students will graduate in 2026.
“In a way (it’s) definitely sad because we will have to leave our campus and be merged with another school. But at the same time we also felt that we are also being recognised because we are going to be the first school in Tengah,” said Mrs Lee, who joined the school in 2018.
“My take is that this is from good to great … That is something we look forward to but meanwhile, there is a lot of work to be done, to manage a lot of emotions and help the transition to go through smoothly,” she added.
Teachers and staff members, especially those who have worked at the school for a long time, “naturally do feel sad”, but they understand the reasons for the merger, said Mrs Lee.
“Last year we just celebrated our 25th anniversary, so there are some staff who have been here since the start. There are a lot of sentiments and fond memories of the school, now knowing that they definitely have to leave this campus because of the JRL and because of the very short notice, they do feel it,” she added.
Another school with a long history is Telok Kurau Primary, which will be keeping its campus in its merger with Eunos Primary School.
Telok Kurau Primary was formerly Telok Kurau English School, founded in 1926. Its alumni include former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and former Malaysian Prime Minister Hussein Onn.
There will “naturally” be some anxiety from students and teachers over the merger, but the school is also excited about its future, said principal Lau Wan Sze, who joined the school in 2019.
“Part of it will be to take the rich histories of both schools and then combine some of our strengths together,” Ms Lau added.
“Regardless of whatever happens, we just remain committed to the fact that it’s really about our students, and ensuring that their experience remains enriching … I think that’s something shared by Eunos Primary too.
“It’s very exciting for me, and it’s really something that we feel that we will do our best to ensure that this continuity happens for both schools.”
The principal of Eunos Primary Grace Ong said the merger announcement was “not something unexpected”, because the school has been seeing low enrolment numbers.
“We focus a lot on the possibilities for the children after the merger. We were talking about the experiences that the children will enjoy by having a wider range of CCAs, for instance,” Mrs Ong added.
STUDENTS AND ALUMNI
Most students who have heard about the mergers are excited about the move, the school principals told CNA.
“The children were excited because some of them have friends in Telok Kurau. They were looking forward to when the (schools are) merged, they will be able to have recess with their friends or have common experiences with their friends,” said Mrs Ong.
“The children were also very excited by the new possibilities. They were asking what kind of CCAs there would be. Some of them were asking in terms of the canteen food, for instance, some of the facilities, so they were quite excited by some of the more physical changes that they might experience when they go over to the merged school building.”
The students at their partner school asked similar questions, said Telok Kurau Primary principal Mrs Lau. “Does this mean that we will have more classmates, more friends? They are just very excited about the whole concept.”
Principals CNA spoke to also acknowledged that alumni might feel more attached to the campuses and feel sad about the mergers, especially for schools that are moving out.
“The school campus may disappear, but the memories, the legacy that they have left behind, definitely we are consolidating it and we’re bringing it to the new school building, where the school heritage will remain, and give them this sense (that) their former school is still around, this merger is not that the whole school is disappearing. It’s still there,” said Pioneer Primary’s Mrs Lee.
“I hope that my staff and my students will see beyond just the campus. Because everything that they have done will definitely be continued and things that they've left behind as a legacy would also be retained,” she added.
“I think I would tell them, don’t be sad," said Stamford Primary’s Mdm Fan, noting that the merger with Farrer Park Primary was a “very tough” decision MOE made “for the sake of the children”.
“Rest assured the history and heritage of both schools, especially our school here, will be preserved, will be documented,” she said.
Adding that the school plans to dedicate some space in the new school to the history of Stamford Primary, she said: “We welcome our ex-students to come back and visit, and even if the name Stamford Primary may not be there ... It doesn't change the fact that they had studied in the school before, and we want to build a strong identity for the school.
“It's important for them to know that even though the school is not here, but the parts of our history, our heritage is here.”