SINGAPORE: Four pairs of primary schools and five pairs of secondary schools will be merged between 2022 and 2024, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on Wednesday (Apr 7).
"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.
The paired primary schools are Juying Primary School and Pioneer Primary School, Eunos Primary School and Telok Kurau Primary School, Farrer Park Primary School and Stamford 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.
The names of the merged schools will be announced later.
These schools were identified based on enrolment trends, geographical proximity of the schools to be merged, suitability of merger partners and the receiving schools' infrastructure capacities, said Ms Liew.
The resident birth rate has dropped from around 46,000 per year in the 1990s to about 35,000 in recent years, said MOE at a briefing on Wednesday.
"At the same time, population demographics have changed in the newer estates, leading to an uneven distribution of students across the schools," said the ministry.
"What we're seeing is that nationally, there is a drop in the number of students. Then at the same time because there are estates that are maturing … you will see fewer young families, and then there are newer estates, which actually have more young families. So there is an even more uneven distribution factor localised."
MOE's previous merging exercise, which involved 14 pairs of schools, took place in 2019. That was the largest school merging exercise in the past decade, involving eight junior colleges for the first time, as well as 14 primary schools and six secondary schools.
For this round, all the mergers will take place in 2023 except for the merging of Juying Primary School and Pioneer Primary School (2022), and Fuchun Secondary School and Woodlands Ring Secondary School (2024).
Juying Primary School and Pioneer Primary School are located in mature areas, and enrolment in both schools have been "falling consistently" in recent years, said MOE in the press release.
The schools will merge in 2022 to "facilitate a revised alignment" of the Jurong Region Line, which will run through Pioneer Primary.
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, said MOE in the press release.
This will meet "upcoming demand" for primary school places in Tengah and address the "declining demand" in the Jurong West area. 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.
"This means that from 2025 to 2026, the merged school will operate two campuses to minimise the need for their Primary 5 and 6 students to commute to the new campus in Tengah," the press release read.
As for Fuchun Secondary and Woodlands Ring Secondary, the rebuilding and improving programme for the latter was previously delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will only be completed in 2023.
The two schools will thus merge in 2024 to allow the merged school to take over the upgraded campus, said MOE in the press release.
Some of the schools involved in the upcoming exercise have a long history. Tanglin Secondary School, which was founded in 1964 as Tanglin Integrated Secondary Technical School, recently merged with Clementi Woods Secondary School in 2016. The school it will be merging with in 2023, New Town Secondary School, was founded in 1965, the year Singapore gained independence.
In addition to falling enrolment, future development plans at Tanglin Secondary School's current site were also part of the considerations for its merger with New Town Secondary School. MOE said more details would be given by the relevant agencies when ready.
In 2016, Fajar Secondary and Ping Yi Secondary also merged with Chestnut Drive Secondary and Bedok Town Secondary respectively.
The Education Ministry is "very mindful" that a merger is "not the best thing that can happen to a school", addressing questions on multiple recent mergers for these schools.
"But when we look at it we sometimes just have to accept that the local demographic numbers just don't permit us to hold back a merger," said the ministry.
"For instance, Bedok - we've been looking at the numbers. Bedok actually has been maturing for some years, and really the student numbers of the secondary school-going age have come down by a lot. So even when the first merger happened in 2016, we knew that it's just a matter of time that we would have to consider more mergers in that area. We just did not know which school we may have to consider."
Telok Kurau Primary School 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.
Teck Whye Secondary started as Jalan Teck Whye Secondary School in 1967. It was the second integrated school to be established in the Teck Whye neighbourhood and provided education in English, Mandarin and Malay.
"As with all previous mergers, there will be no retrenchment of MOE staff," Ms Liew said.
In the year leading up to the merger, there will be discussions across the two schools merging on what would be "a good mix" of staff members, and the new principal will be announced, said MOE in the briefing.
"Those (who) are not going to be part of the merged school, we obviously have plans for them to be posted, redeployed to other parts of the education system, typically in another school for teachers," the ministry said.
"That's our assurance and it's not an issue of numbers. We will ensure everyone will be redeployed."
The ministry will "work closely" with the affected schools to "ensure a smooth transition" to the merged school for students and staff, said Ms Liew.
"I know that every merger is a painful exercise. It's a painful exercise for the students, the alumni, the staff in particular and the school leaders," she added.
"MOE HQ is committed to work closely with them to ensure that this process is as smooth as possible and that they can see the resulting outcomes, which is a vibrant and a stronger school for the students that will be coming to their merged school."
"The history and heritage of both schools will be documented in a heritage space in the merged school building," MOE said in the press release.