In our last article, we explained the problems with the Junior College (JC) mergers. One of the arguments made in favor of the merger involve supply-demand considerations.
The argument as follows: demand drives the system. Hence, if enrollment rates fall, the supply of JC education must be reduced in order to match this demand, and because the way the system works is that the ‘top’ JCs are the first to fill up, the reduction in supply should logically take place at the JCs that are less in demand – i.e. the ‘lower ranked’ JCs. There are problems with this argument.
First, any A Level economics student can tell you that any supply and demand analysis must take into account market failure. If we agree that a JC education is a merit good – i.e. it is a good thing to have – then a decrease in enrollment numbers might suggest that people are under-valuing a JC education.
If fewer people want a JC education, we need to ask why. Is it due to the increasing quality of polytechnic education? (which if true, would be a good thing) Or is it because of misinformation, or being afraid that one is ‘not good enough’ for JC? Could this be a short-term phenomenon? After all, if the government ‘got it wrong’ by building Eunoia JC last year in spite of falling enrollment rates, what’s to say they have not ‘gotten it wrong’ again this time? All these questions need to be addressed. Turning to supply and demand as a quick answer to the problem is not good enough.
In any case, if the issue really was about cutting the schools from the “bottom up”, how come St Andrew’s JC and Catholic JC were spared the chopping board? Whereas Anderson JC, which ranks above them in terms of its cut-off-points, is going to be merged? It cannot be a matter of geography, since, according to Google Maps, St Andrew’s JC and Catholic JC are 4.8 km apart, while Anderson JC and Serangoon JC are 6.9 km apart. Perhaps the MOE has its reasons; but surely they should have been articulated, given how drastically this will impact those involved.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the supply-demand analysis might justify closing down an unprofitable businesses, but schools are not the same. Schools do not aim to sell a product and turn a profit – they are designed to educate our young. As explained in our last article, smaller class sizes tend to lead to better education. Hence, falling enrollment levels, while possibly leading to higher cost-per-student, also leads to better teacher-student ratios, which should be a good thing! It feels almost as if weaker students, who are already denied the ‘brand name’ and advantages of a ‘top’ JC do not deserve smaller class sizes either!
It is well-known that there is a huge disparity in resources between the ‘elite’ and the ‘non-elite’ JCs in terms of infrastructure and academic support. If the Ministry truly wishes to narrow the gap between the ‘top’ and the ‘bottom’, it should be prepared to give more resources to the lower-ranked JCs when they have the chance to – it is these students who need the most resources in order to catch up with their peers, not the ‘elite school’ kids. Yet, this does not happen to be the government’s position. Characteristically, when presented with the choice between helping the already well-off and helping those lagging behind, the current government chooses to widen the privilege gap, rather than narrow it.
Every school is a good school, but some schools have swimming pools
Therefore, I believe that even if there are supply and demand reasons to scale down the number of JCs, and even if doing so does save costs, I do not think the government should have carried out the mergers anyway. The education of our next generation is not a business, and our education system is not a corporation. This kind of “corporate restructuring” should not take place, and especially not to this extent on the basis of supply and demand alone.
In any case, if the issue was really about ensuring there are enough people in each JC in light of falling enrollment rates, why didn’t the government allow for a natural redistribution of students by instructing the larger ‘top’ JCs to lower their intake, so that students would spread themselves out over the ‘lower-ranked’ JCs? Doesn’t this also ensure the numbers in the lower-ranked JCs remain healthy? Perhaps it is because these schools do in fact have better facilities, better teachers and better alumni networks.
So much for every school being a good school.
What is also troubling, however, was the way some people responded to the decision. It’s one thing to defend the government and give arguments as to why the move was justified; it is another to adopt an uncaring attitude towards those affected. For example, this person felt that alumni from the soon-to-be merged JCs have no business complaining:
Such a claim ignores the fact that (to use an example) Jurong JC has only been around for 36 years, unlike say, Raffles Institution which has been around for 194 years. It is always easy to speak from a position of privilege, but far more difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
In the end, to some civil servant behind a desk, this ‘reshuffling’ may appear to be a simple matter of “capacity control”. But for those directly affected by it – whose lives have been changed by these institutions – telling them that it is a matter of “supply and demand” is surely not good enough. Singaporeans have feelings and emotions; they should not to be treated as a statistic. I would like to share an excerpt from an emotional post by a former AJC-ian which is worth taking in.
I guess can be easy for someone from a ‘top’, ‘brand-name’ JC with beautiful buildings, a rich school culture, a long history, and a large alumni to look at students from so-called ‘neighborhood’ JCs and wonder to themselves: what do these students have to be proud about at all? They could not be more wrong – just because someone did not go to a top JC does not make their JC experiences any less meaningful or valuable.
Even if the policy does not change, I hope that this entire affair have allowed those who come from the ‘top’ – both adults and students alike – to better understand the experiences and the grievances of those who may not be as privileged as them. Only by doing so will be nurture a society that is built not on grades and privilege, but on empathy and mutual respect for others.
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