Falling birthrate? The public was having none of it. If a reduced population is the reason, Singaporeans asked, then why was a new JC, Eunoia, set up this year?
The MOE further defended its move, saying that the JCs eliminated were chosen because of they were close to each other.
Again, the people weren't buying it. If geographical proximity is the reason, they contended, then why was Hwa Chong and National JCs, located across the road from each other, not merged?
The Ministry had no comeback.
Many accused the government of fomenting elitism – the affected schools were all in the heartlands away from the country's prime districts. It was not an empty charge.
How else can you explain the government's single-minded effort to concentrate our top (often called 'branded' schools) in the choicest real estate on the island?
Anglo-Chinese School, Raffles Girls' School, Singapore Chinese Girls's School, Methodist Girls' School, St Joseph's Institution, Nanyang Girls' High School, Chinese High School, Nanyang Primary School, Hwa Chong JC, and National JC are all located in the Bukit Timah vicinity.
Whitley Secondary School, situated right across Raffles' Town Club, was bumped off to accommodate SCGS. Its neighbour, Swiss Cottage Secondary, was relocated to Bukit Batok while SJI moved into the locale.
The PAP's late patriarch, Lee Kuan Yew, never hid his affinity for the elite class. He said in 1967 that every society has approximately 5 percent of the population “who are more than ordinarily endowed physically and mentally and in whom we must extend our limited and slender resources...”
Lee repeated this sentiment in 1993: “Singaporeans will not become successful and prosperous by talking and concentrating on dividing the pie. Our journalists write about who are the poor. Give them some money. If he can't study because he's too busy helping his father, we must look after his father and him. We are concentrating on our navels!”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong would echo this thinking in 2015: “If you don’t have a certain natural aristocracy in the system, people who are respected because they have earned that and we level everything down to the lowest common denominator, then I think society will lose out.”
Armed with the declared wisdom, the PAP erected a system steeped in elitism.
Such thinking had to be inculcated young, starting in school. Hence, the discrepancy between the 'elite' and 'neighbourhood' schools.
Of course, the remaining 95 percent of the less-than-ordinarily-endowed had to be placated which was the reason the government came up with the “every school is a good school” mantra.
The rhetoric was so blatant that educators themselves saw through it. "How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their homes? Until they do so, parents are not going to buy it," former vice-principal of a neighbourhood school, Pushparani Nadarajah, pointed out.
The great impact
The question that few stop to ask is how such an elitist model serves Singapore as we move ahead.
With a world already torn with inequality, the last thing we need in this country is further amplification of the imbalance because with inequality comes even greater wealth disparity and further loss of opportunity for the non-elite. Rapid technological advancement is set to disrupt economies and make even more challenging the lives of the masses.
An unenlightened political leadership will drag our society further down the hole. As former head of the civil service, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, observed: “The problem today is that PAP is a bit too elitist. I think that they don’t feel for the people; overall, there is a lack of empathy.”
Such a set-up cannot end well for Singapore.