Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat explains delay in new junior college to parents at dialogue

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 10 May 2015

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on Sunday explained the considerations behind his ministry's recent announcement of a delay to a new but yet-to-be-named junior college at the junction of Sin Ming Avenue and Marymount Road.

Addressing queries from some parents about the fact that the campus will be completed only by the end of 2019, more than a year later than intended, he said at a dialogue at the Bishan Community Club:

"Are we better off starting the programme and running into certain delays in the infrastructure, or are we better off not starting in the first place?"

Mr Heng, who was on a community visit to the Bishan East ward of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, said there were two options to consider with regard to the matter.

One was to get every facility ready and "start only when we're ready in 2020 because we must not take any risk that the building may not be completed in time. Therefore we don't want to disappoint students, parents ..." he said.The other was to say, "let's get going, as long as students benefit, and let's focus on the essence of the programme," he said.

Last week, the Ministry of Education said in a letter to parents that more time was needed more time to incorporate a new traffic infrastructure project in the area into the JC's design and construction. The new institution will take in Integrated Programme (IP) students from Catholic High, St Nicholas Girls', and Singapore Chinese Girls schools.

The ministry had also announced that the old Raffles Junior College campus at Mount Sinai off Holland Road will be refurbished for IP students from the three schools, who will use it as an interim junior college.

Said Mr Heng on Sunday: "I'm not saying that it is ideal when you have a delay, but the truth of the matter is there will be, in life, unforeseen circumstances and we'll get the ministry to explain in greater detail what are the unforeseen circumstances." "The MOE will communicate further with the parents," he told reporters afterwards.

The issue arose during a 90-minute dialogue with some 400 parents, students and residents.

Two fathers with sons in Catholic High School expressed their disappointment over the delay. One feared that his son's studies might be disrupted if he had to move to an interim campus halfway through his time in the new JC.

During the visit, Mr Heng launched elderly fitness stations and a book exchange point, as well as greeted residents and stallholders in wet markets and coffee shops.

He was accompanied during he visit by Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP and former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, and community and grassroots leaders, including OUE Hospitality Trust chief executive Chong Kee Hiong, who has been previously identified as a potential People's Action Party candidate for the next general election, which must be held by January 2017.

* Mount Sinai holding site for new JC is most suitable: Heng Swee Keat
The interim campus has the right complement of facilities and students of JC age will not have difficulty accessing it, says Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.
Channel NewsAsia, 13 Jul 2015

The former Raffles Junior College campus at Mount Sinai is the most suitable interim site for an upcoming Junior College (JC) as it best meets the school’s needs, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Jul 13).

“It is sufficiently large and has the right complement of facilities such as lecture theatres, sporting facilities and common spaces,” said Mr Heng, in a written parliamentary reply. “This site best meets the needs of the new JC’s curriculum and programmes.”

The school’s permanent campus in Sin Ming Avenue is expected to be completed at end-2019, but it would start taking in Integrated Programme (IP) students from Catholic High School, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School in 2017.

At a dialogue session in May, some parents had expressed concern about the distance between their homes and the holding campus, and requested the Ministry of Education (MOE) reconsider the former ITE Ang Mo Kio campus as a holding site.

The Education Minister explained that the Mount Sinai site is accessible to JC-age students even if it is further from home for some of the students who are in the IP. He noted that it is served by several bus services and is within walking distance to Buona Vista MRT station.

He also pointed out that Raffles JC operated at the Mount Sinai site for 20 years and had students from all over Singapore, and Dunman High School had used it as a holding site when its Tanjong Rhu campus underwent upgrading from 2007 to 2008.

“Hence, students of JC age would not have difficulty accessing the JC, even if it was further away than what was initially planned,” said Mr Heng.

“MOE appreciates the concern of parents in the changes of plans and timing for the interim and permanent campus of the new JC,” he added. “It is not ideal, and we regret that the developments did not allow us to proceed earlier.”

The school’s permanent campus was meant to be completed by mid-2018 and the former ITE Bishan campus was chosen as a holding site. But following delays to the completion of the campus and ITE Bishan no longer being available, MOE said the Mount Sinai site was the next best alternative.

Parents of the students had suggested the former ITE Ang Mo Kio campus be used as a holding site, but MOE said it was unsuitable, citing the lack of lecture theatres and few common spaces.

* MOE confirms Mt Sinai as holding site for delayed JC
It has the space and facilities; old ITE campus ruled out after fresh scrutiny
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2015

THE holding site for the delayed new junior college (JC) will be at Mount Sinai, the Ministry of Education (MOE) confirmed yesterday in a letter to affected parents and students.

The site was chosen as it has the space and facilities to complement JC education, the MOE said, after the initial plan to have the holding school at the old Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Bishan campus fell through. That campus is being used by St Joseph's Institution while its Malcolm Road campus is being upgraded.

The Mount Sinai site will include lecture theatres, a running track and basketball and tennis courts.

The letter comes after some parents complained at a dialogue with the MOE on May 25 that the old Raffles JC campus in Mount Sinai was too far from their children's current schools.

The JC is meant to take in Integrated Programme (IP) students from Bishan's Catholic High School, Ang Mo Kio's CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School (SNGS), and Bukit Timah's Singapore Chinese Girls' School. The pioneer batch due to enter the JC in 2017 are currently in Secondary 3.

At the dialogue attended by 300 parents, some asked the MOE to consider interim sites near Bishan, such as the old ITE campus in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5.

MOE said it re-examined the possibility of having the interim school at the ITE Ang Mo Kio campus based on parents' feedback, despite having earlier assessed it as unsuitable. It studied the Ang Mo Kio site "in greater detail" and looked at how some aspects of the JC programme would have to be scaled down.

Still, Mount Sinai was picked as the smaller Ang Mo Kio campus "will not be able to support the programmes and provide all the students with sufficient facilities", it said.

"While we understand that distance to home is an important consideration to some parents, it is even more important to ensure that all the students of the new JC have a positive learning environment to study in."

The still-unnamed JC will move to its permanent site at the junction of Sin Ming Avenue and Marymount Road when it is completed at the end of 2019.

It had originally been scheduled to be ready by mid-2018, but was delayed owing to complications with the Cross-Island Line, which will run beneath the JC.

Parents and students affected were told of the delay in April. Some were upset and wanted to transfer their children out.

MOE said in the letter that transfers to the O-level track or to other IP schools will be subject to vacancies and the student meeting the receiving school's admission criteria.

The new JC's principal, Mrs Wong Mei Heng, said transfers must be considered carefully as the IP is a six-year programme. "A parent who decides to take the child away from the programme would probably have deprived the child of the rich educational experience that he could gain."

Parents had also asked the MOE to acquire other land for the JC to avoid the delay, but there are no suitable plots available.

"Even if we were to situate the new JC in a different plot of land, the completion timeline would be even longer as we would need to restart the entire development process," the ministry said.

The permanent campus will be located near the three affiliated schools and the future Bright Hill MRT station, and adjoins the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

Occupying the space now is the Nature Park Driving Range. It opened in 2000 on a 15-year lease and will move out this year end.

Bishan resident Kevin Ong, 48, whose daughter is in Secondary 1 at SNGS, said: "A lot of complex structures such as Resorts World Sentosa, designer condos and high-rise HDB blocks can be built in three years, so I don't see why the JC should take close to 10 years to be ready. We are just asking for what was promised."

But Ang Mo Kio resident Xue Lei, 42, whose Secondary 3 daughter is in the same school, said: "The location and campus are secondary issues. I'm more concerned about the teachers and programme, and whether the school can prepare the students for university."

Parents fret over location of interim site for new JC
Some want it nearby, while others prefer proper facilities
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 30 May 2015

PARENTS are divided over the Ministry of Education's (MOE) offer to re-look its decision on where to house the interim site for a new junior college (JC) that cannot be built on schedule.

The two camps appear to be separated by the desire for a convenient location on the one hand, and for a suitable site, wherever it is, on the other hand.

On Tuesday, in response to demands from some parents, MOE agreed to reconsider sites nearer to Bishan, including the old Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Ang Mo Kio, which it had previously rejected as being too small. The request came from parents who felt that the ministry's choice of the old Raffles Junior College in Mount Sinai was too far for their children to travel to.

A third camp appears to be parents who want to transfer their children out altogether if the new junior college cannot be built in time as promised.

The new JC will start in 2017 and enrol mainly Integrated Programme students from Catholic High School (CHS) in Bishan, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School in Ang Mo Kio and the Singapore Chinese Girls' School (SCGS) in Bukit Timah.

The plan is for them to study at an interim site until the campus at the junction of Sin Ming Avenue and Marymount Road is ready at end-2019.

The original time frame for it to be ready by mid-2018 had to be scuttled because of complications in building and design due to the Cross Island Line, which will run underneath the college.

Another complication was that the original choice of an interim school site in Bishan became unavailable and a new site had to be picked.

Some parents suggested the old ITE campus in Ang Mo Kio as an alternative to MOE's plan to use the former RJC in Mount Sinai. They said it could take up to 40 minutes for their children to get to Mount Sinai.

But MOE explained in a May 12 letter that ITE Ang Mo Kio lacked facilities such as lecture theatres, science labs and a running track, and its canteen and hall were too small.

After a heated dialogue on Monday between MOE and upset parents, the ministry said it would relook interim sites nearer to Bishan, including ITE Ang Mo Kio. This has worried other parents, who noted MOE had already rejected the location as inadequate.

An SCGS student's father, who wanted to be known only as Mr Leong, said: "The site must be suitable for a JC so that our children's education is not compromised."

A 45-year-old Bishan resident with two sons at CHS agreed, saying: "The Mount Sinai site may be far, but it is not that big a deal. When the kids get older, their workplace won't be next door too."

But housewife Carol Goh, 45, whose son attends CHS, is holding out hope the school will be completed on schedule. "Mount Sinai may be convenient for MOE, but it is not convenient for many of us."

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, urged parents to make the best of a tough situation, as a campus is but one aspect of school life. "Maybe something went wrong, but now the question is, what is the best solution?"

MOE mulling over Bishan interim JC site
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 27 May 2015

FIRST it was Bishan, then Mount Sinai.

Now Bishan is back on the cards to provide an interim campus for students from Catholic High, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' and Singapore Chinese Girls' schools affected by the delay in the building of a new junior college (JC) that was supposed to take them in.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said last night, a day after a testy dialogue with more than 300 affected parents and students, that it is reconsidering having a holding site nearer to Bishan.

Parents had complained at the dialogue that the former Raffles Junior College (RJC) campus in Mount Sinai, which was chosen after the original interim site in Bishan fell through, was too far away.

"Hence, we are reviewing options for holding sites that we had previously considered, that are closer to the Bishan area (including the former ITE Ang Mo Kio)," said a spokesman for MOE.

The spokesman added that parents will be updated within a few weeks.

The new JC, which will start taking in its first batch of students in 2017, is being set up to accommodate mostly Integrated Programme (IP) students graduating from the three secondary schools.

The original plan was for it to operate at a holding site in Bishan Street 14 for 11/2 years, before moving to its permanent campus at the junction of Sin Ming Avenue and Marymount Road in mid- 2018. But parents were told last month that the new campus would be ready only at the end of 2019.

They were also told that the Bishan holding site was no longer available because the current occupiers, St Joseph's Institution, would not be able to move out in time as it is also facing delays in the renovation of its Malcolm Road campus.

MOE chose Mount Sinai as the old RJC site is big enough to accommodate a cohort of JC students and already has key facilities such as lecture theatres and science labs. The ministry also promised to revamp the campus.

But emotions still ran high at Monday night's 21/2-hour dialogue at MOE's headquarters in Buona Vista. Parents voiced their unhappiness over the delay to the new permanent campus, and complained that the Mount Sinai site was too far away from Marymount. They made a ruckus when MOE representatives suggested providing a bus service or pushing back the start of the school day.

Present at the dialogue were principals of the three secondary schools and the new JC, as well as Mr Lim Boon Wee, deputy secretary of MOE's services wing, Mr Wong Kang Jet, director of MOE's finance and development division, Ms Lim Huay Chih, director of MOE's school planning and placement division, and Ms Lina Lim, group director of the Land Transport Authority's policy and planning group.

Parents pressed MOE to build the new JC on time, or look for an alternative site to build it.

Mr Lim said even if the ministry were to look for another site, "it won't be any faster than 2019... It will definitely be even later than 2019".

At the dialogue, it was explained that the delay to the new campus was due to the Cross Island MRT Line, which will run beneath the site.

Several parents asked MOE to allow their children to transfer to other JCs offering the IP. An MOE officer replied that such requests depended on vacancies and availability. But an agitated parent said: "MOE has broken its promise of a new JC... If there is a need for us to change (schools), MOE must guarantee (our children) a place."

When told that MOE was reconsidering choosing a site in Bishan to serve as the holding JC, parents The Straits Times spoke to were still not placated.

Madam Ng Kam Fong, whose daughter is in CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School, said: "MOE had earlier said ITE Ang Mo Kio was too small, and now they are considering moving the interim site there."

The 39-year-old property agent, who may consider transferring her daughter to other JCs, added: "I just want the new JC to be delivered on time. I don't want my daughter to spend her entire two years in JC in a holding site."

High-rise JC delayed by transport works beneath site: MOE
It gives details on challenges and plans to hold dialogue with parents
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 13 May 2015

A NEW junior college (JC) slated to be completed in 2018 had to be delayed because of transport infrastructure being built underneath it, the Ministry of Education (MOE) learnt in 2013.

In a letter to parents yesterday, the second it has sent about the delay, MOE said it was told this when the Land Transport Authority (LTA) wrote to it that year.

MOE will hold a dialogue with parents of affected students on May 25.

It said it went ahead with the JC as planned anyway, as it had assessed the impact of the transport project "could be mitigated".

But late last year, LTA informed MOE that the transport project would be more extensive and would cut across a larger portion of the new JC's site.

"This meant that the construction of the new JC campus would have to be done over underground infrastructure, which posed new engineering challenges and increased the complexity of the project," as written in the letter.

The ministry had also underestimated the extent of the pre-construction works required for the new JC, which would be the first high-rise JC here, the letter said.

With these factors, the construction timeline was revised from mid-2018 to end-2019, and parents and students were informed on April 13.

Yesterday, MOE said the delay was "not desirable", but having both projects on the same site "ensures better use of our limited land resources".

The as-yet unnamed JC, to be sited at the junction of Sin Ming Avenue and Marymount Road, will take in mainly Integrated Programme (IP) students from Catholic High, St Nicholas Girls' and Singapore Chinese Girls' schools.

Those in the IP go straight to JC without sitting the O levels. The JC will take its first students in 2017 at an interim site, while the campus is built.

In its first letter last month, MOE also said the interim site had to be moved from the old Institute of Technical Education (ITE) campus in Bishan to the old Raffles Junior College (RJC) location at Mount Sinai. The ITE site is being used by St Joseph's Institution (SJI) while its own Malcolm Road campus is being rebuilt. That construction too has been delayed.

MOE said yesterday that some parents had asked to move the SJI students from the site, so students of the new JC can use it.

But this was not feasible, the letter said, as it would be "extremely disruptive" for SJI students to have to move twice - out of Bishan next year and into their own campus the year after.

MOE also explained it had chosen the old RJC campus as the new interim site over the former ITE College West at Ang Mo Kio - another suggestion by parents as it is nearer the three feeder schools - because the ITE campus lacked key facilities such as lecture theatres and laboratories. The canteen is small and it lacks adequate sports facilities. These facilities are already in place at the old RJC, the letter said.

Despite the latest communication, some parents are still upset that their children will not get a chance to be on the new campus.

Retiree Andrew Ng, 48, whose two sons are in Catholic High, said: "What MOE is saying still feels like an excuse.

"They've got to do what is right. If they've promised the school will be ready in 2018, they have to deliver it." He said he intends to attend the dialogue.

Ministry of Education gives more details on new JC's delay in letter
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2015

The Education Ministry (MOE) gave more details on the delay of the new junior college (JC), meant to take in Integrated Programme students from Catholic High, St Nicholas Girls', and Singapore Chinese Girls schools, on Thursday morning.

In a three-page long letter, the ministry said the new JC's delay was because MOE needed to incorporate the Land Transport Authority's future transport infrastructure into the design and construction of the new campus.

The new JC will be Singapore's first high-rise one and would require "more extensive pre-construction works" than the ministry had earlier anticipated, such as soil investigations.

As these works can be "quite disruptive", the ministry will only carry them out after the current lessee, the Nature Park Driving Range, moves out at the year end.

The ministry said these reasons contributed to the delay in the completion of the new JC.

The letter, signed by Mr Wong Kang Jet, director of finance and development division, and Ms Lim Huay Chih, director of the school planning and placement division, was given to students in the morning, and uploaded on the websites of the three secondary schools.

Integrated Programme students of the three schools and their parents were told on April 13 that the new JC they would be entering, sited on the junction of Sin Ming Avenue and Marymout Road, would not be completed by its the mid-2018 target, and will instead be delayed till the end of 2019.

Students in the Integrated Programme go straight to JC without sitting for the O levels.

But the JC will start operating in 2017 at a temporary holding site.

The holding site was originally planned to be at Bishan Street 14, the former campus of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), but has now changed to Mount Sinai, where Raffles Junior College used to be.

St Joseph's Institution is now using the Bishan space as its interim campus, while its school in Malcolm Road undergoes upgrading. The school is likely to extend its stay in Bishan until mid-2017, due to construction delays at the Malcolm Road campus.

The change has made some parents upset, some of whom have written to The Straits Times' Forum pages, as the new holding site is further away from the three schools now.

But the ministry said in the letter that it had known, since the start of this year, that the Bishan holding site will not be ready to take in students from the new JC by January 2017.

It then explored the available options, and found the Mount Sinai site to be the most suitable alternative, with the available facilities and capacity to accommodate a full cohort of JC students.

The Mount Sinai holding site will "undergo extensive rejuvenation", Mr Wong and Ms Lim wrote in the letter.

The running track and school field will be rebuilt, the science laboratories will be replaced, and additional facilities such as music studios, informal study spaces and wireless connectivity will be added to the Mount Sinai campus, to prepare it for the JC students entering in 2017.

An artist's impression of the holding site will be available by end September.

The ministry is also discussing alternative transport arrangements for affected students with the principals of the new JC and the three secondary schools, the letter said.

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