Petir Explains: Why and when does the Govt relocate schools between neighbourhoods?

School relocations made the news recently. Anglo-Chinese School (Primary) is moving from Barker Road to the up-and-coming Tengah estate in 2030. Bukit View Primary School (BVPS) is relocating 2km westwards too, to be closer to Tengah in 2027.

What goes into these decisions by the PAP Government? Foresight, a good deal of town planning and a balancing of public need with particular circumstances, as finds out.

And what do they mean for the social fabric of Singapore?

Because let’s be honest — that is an inevitable concern whenever we talk about a top school brand like ACS here in a country where people popularly see education as the way to get ahead in our meritocracy.

Schools get relocated regularly

The PAP Government balances the needs of Singaporeans and each school’s particular circumstances when considering the need for relocation.

“When planning the locations for new schools and reviewing the distribution of schools across Singapore including possible relocations, MOE takes into account current and projected residential populations, to meet educational needs both at the national and at the local levels,” wrote the Ministry of Education when PAP MP Yip Hon Wen raised the issue in Parliament (Feb 28).

“In deciding whether or which school to relocate, we are also mindful that each relocation case and its circumstances are unique,” added MOE.

History, and research from the National Institute of Education (NIE), bear this out: Records show that schools relocate for reasons including school expansion, growing student body, urban redevelopment, facility upgrades, unsafe buildings and the Government granting a new site for relocation.

In fact, Singapore’s schools tend to relocate whenever new towns get built or scale up.

The eight established (19th – and early/ mid-20th century) schools profiled in the NIE paper moved to their present sites during Singapore’s development of decentralised new towns during the 1980s and early 1990s.

For example, Gan Eng Seng School moved to Bukit Merah in 1986 and the Fairfield Methodist schools shifted to Dover Road in 1990.

Raffles Institution and Catholic High School, which were not profiled in the NIE paper, moved to their current Bishan campuses around the same time in the 1990s, when Bishan was still a nascent new town, notes.

New towns need to have schools for their residents, after all.

Bukit View Primary: A smooth shift which fills a gap

In the particular case of BVPS, demand for school places in its current Bukit Batok East location is on the downturn and will not improve; 

Applications from Bukit Batok East accounted for 45 per cent of the total demand for Primary One (P1) places in 2020, 38 per cent this year and is estimated to fall further to around 20 per cent in 2030.

On the other hand, demand for P1 places coming from Bukit Batok West is expected to increase with more BTOs on the way.

Hence, the overall P1 place demand for Bukit Batok as a whole is projected to remain constant. In other words, BVPS is shifting to where — and for when — demand for P1 places will be especially needed.

The Government will relocate BVPS smoothly, assured Minister of State for Education Gan Siow Huang (Feb 22), who used the example of Angsana Primary which was moved, also about 2km away, in 2022.

“Using the ‘lift and shift’ method, we kept the school intact, ensured all students benefited from the new facilities at the new campus and provided a sense of continuity for the students and the teachers.”

Source: Bukit View Primary / Facebook

“BVPS will adopt this similar approach which is the preferred approach when the re-location is over a relatively short distance.”

Anglo-Chinese School: Fostering unity from diversity

“In the specific case of ACS (Primary) School, ACS Board of Governors had discussed with MOE on a possible move of one of their two primary schools in the Bukit Timah area to the heartlands to serve a different community and to inject more diversity into their student profile,” noted Education Minister Chan Chun Sing in Parliament (Feb 28).

This is a philosophy in line with the Ministry of Education’s overall focus on more diverse learning environments. Initiatives like Full Subject-Based Banding and Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) lessons are being rolled out to help students appreciate the value of difference.

“Values such as respect, care and harmony, are core to our national curriculum,” said then-Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng in 2016 (Jul 11).  

“Complementing our emphasis on values education, we also develop in our students social and emotional skills that will enable them to appreciate diversity, empathise with and demonstrate respect for others, and build positive relationships with others.”

Schools, after all, are not meant to be simply about book-based learning. And diversity is not simply about race or ethnicity — it’s about social class as well.

This early-in-life everyday intermixing between children of different social classes creates a strong foundation for them and the nation. They will be well-rounded citizens and people later on in life; it will help them be better able to see the commonalities beyond class and that, despite differences, we are all one Singapore.   

And they will, in the longstanding national tradition of tripartite partnership and with the renewed focus on building up Singapore’s social compact, help the nation and each other move forward together.

“The rich can give their children more opportunities. Those who have succeeded by their merit naturally seek to pass on their advantages to their children by any means possible. So there is a risk of privilege being entrenched across generations,” said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong in the middle of last year (Jun 28).

“We cannot abandon meritocracy, but I believe we can improve it and make ours a more open and compassionate meritocracy.”

Relocating “brand” schools like ACS (Primary) to the heartlands then, is one traffic stop on the pathway towards keeping this social compact moving forward — so that for schools, Singaporeans and Singapore, the best is yet to be.

Images: BVPS, CHS, ACS