Saturday, 23 June 2018

Time needed to build up a school's brand

The original How to make every school a good school was published here. My original text below:

As an anthropologist, I am intrigued as to why old boys and girls of ‘branded’ schools maintain ties and traditions (rituals, songs, ethos) wherever the school is re-located, whilst those from neighbourhood schools don’t, or can’t.

Is it because ‘neighbourhood schools’ lack a ‘creation myth’? Or a sense of achievement, of history, or continuity?

All my schools had been flattened.

Falling enrolment, as will happen in any maturing estate, means that schools that had educated generations of locals are forced to close.

Tiong Bahru Primary, with its unique architecture, is now a power station. My classmate wept the day he watched the buildings come down.

Raffles Girls has a totally new set of buildings on prime land.

Ironically, we are now fundraising again because it is moving to Westlake, where I had spent a year as a pioneering Nanyang Junior College student.

I’m actually pleased that new architecture has replaced the original aesthetically-challenged Nanyang buildings.

How sad it must be for JC pioneers down the years when it was announced that their JCs were going to close or be merged.

A lack of ‘creation myth’ notwithstanding (other than one of need), each batch of JC pioneers had striven to ‘make tradition’.

But why would students and teachers in neighbourhood schools bother to become the good or even elite schools of tomorrow if these schools could be closed at a whim (‘bureaucratic convenience’)?

Large countries have to deal with rural-urban migration. Singaporeans migrate from older to newer estates because of the HDB 99-year lease.

A falling enrolment is the perfect opportunity to extend the JC environment and facilities to secondary and even primary school pupils: show (non-)aspiring children the pathway to higher education.

Why not let neighbourhood schools and JCs age in place and grace?

Instead of closing them, I will reduce class sizes. 

Achievement (not the same as exam results) will improve as children are given their due attention. A ‘brand’ develops.

Previous pupils will send their children there, close to the grandparents, strengthening old school ties. New families moving into the catchment area will rejuvenate the neighbourhood.

If we can have ethnicity-based quotas, we can also have ‘family-age’ quotas, and perhaps even monetary incentives to move into ageing estates.

Schools are not factories. Tradition in schools can happen if there is political will to let it.

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