SINGAPORE: From 2021, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will relocate Yusof Ishak Secondary School to Punggol as part of its plans to meet the growing demand for school places in the estate, it announced on Thursday (Sep 13).
The school is currently located in a part of Bukit Batok where demand for school places is falling, said MOE in a media release.
The student population at Yusof Ishak Secondary has been shrinking, according to its principal Maureen Lee. In 2013, the school had about 800 students, but this has dropped to about 400 this year.
None of Yusof Ishak Secondary's current students will need to move to the new Punggol campus, and no new Secondary 1 students will be admitted to the school in the next two years.
The first Secondary 1 cohort at the school’s new campus in Punggol will be admitted in 2021. At this time, the school will also continue its operations for a year at its current Bukit Batok location to accommodate its Secondary 4 cohort.
This will minimise any disruption to students' learning, MOE said, adding that it will work with the school to ensure the transition to its new campus goes smoothly.
The school hopes to have 1,300 students in total at its Punggol campus by 2024.
The ministry added that the school will have “a small number” of Secondary 5 students in the Normal (Academic) stream in 2022. These students will be transferred to other secondary schools within the Bukit Batok area.
The school was established in 1965 as Jubilee Integrated Secondary School, was renamed Yusof Ishak Secondary School in 1966, after Singapore’s first President Yusof Ishak, and was opened by Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. It has been located at Bukit Batok since 1998.
The school also hosts the Centre for Teaching and Learning Excellence. The centre, which was set up in 2015, was set up to help boost the professional development of teachers in Singapore.
The school’s new site in Punggol will continue to host the centre, but with improved facilities such as an interactive learning centre with video streaming capabilities, a learning lab with an attached observation room, an enlarged classroom with additional space for observers and a covered area for outdoor learning activities.
Two new primary schools – Valour Primary and Northshore Primary – will also begin operations and admit their first Primary 1 cohort in 2020. This will meet the high demand for primary school places in Punggol, MOE said.
RELOCATION, NOT MERGER
Citing the school’s rich heritage and established history, as the only school in Singapore named after the first President Yusof Ishak, Mdm Lee said that the relocation is a good thing for the school and its stakeholders.
"We get to preserve the cherished history and ethos of the school,” she said.
Teachers Channel NewsAsia spoke to also pointed to the school’s rich history when asked if they would prefer the option of the school being merged with another.
"I don’t expect a merger, because our school is so unique," said physics teacher Lau Chu Beng, who has been with the school for nine years. “We are named after the (first) president, and our identity is very strong."
"I've been here eight years, and I really love the school and its rich heritage,” said English language and literature teacher Azwiza Ahmad. “So I really appreciate that there's no decision to close it down."
In April 2017, MOE had announced that 14 primary schools and six secondary schools would merge next year. The merger of eight junior colleges was also announced then, making it the largest school merging exercise in the past decade.
Since 2000, MOE had relocated about 60 schools, with some of them more than 10km from their original site. In 2005, Mee Toh School was relocated from Kallang to Punggol to meet demand for school places in the area.
MANAGING THE TRANSITION
Principal Mdm Lee said plans are in the pipeline to keep a "core group of teachers" at Bukit Batok to take care of its Secondary 4 and 5 students, even when the school opens its campus at Punggol in 2021.
She said that with a smaller cohort of students at Bukit Batok, there will be "plentiful opportunities" for teachers to give them more time and attention.
“One-to-one time and attention can be given, we can customise the curriculum to meet their individual needs, and provide more opportunities to stretch their abilities," she said.
In the meantime, she also has plans to speak to every staff member to understand their concerns and plans for the future.
“I can see that my teachers are committed, but I do understand that the distance is a practical concern," she said.
“So they would be given a choice to be redeployed ... to look at other schools of their choice or even move on to MOE headquarters."
Faced with a longer commute when the school relocates, some teachers are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Teachers were informed of the planned relocation on Wednesday, according to Mdm Lee.
Science and mathematics teacher Ang Yue Hua's home is a 5-minute drive from the school. When the campus moves, she says her commute will likely be almost an hour long – compounded by the fact that she may no longer drive to school.
"I haven't made my decision yet, because the news is very recent," she said, adding that she is also considering moving to Toa Payoh and the commute to Punggol may not be as long.
"I would be excited to move to Punggol, because it’s a new school, with a fresh batch of students."
Mr Lau, however, is already sure that he will continue with the school, despite living in Jurong – an estimated 30-minute drive from Punggol.
“I will move with the school to continue my work with the Centre for Teaching and Learning Excellence,” he said, explaining that the centre conducts in-house demo classes and master classes for the teaching fraternity.
“This is my area of interest,” he added.
When asked if the distance was an issue, Mr Lau did not hesitate.
“There are people who live in Punggol and travel to Tuas because they like their employer, and they like their work,” he said. "I like my work and I can identify with the school."