By Leow Si Wan
ST JOSEPH'S Institution (SJI) has reapplied to the Ministry of Education for the school to run the Integrated Programme (IP), after an earlier proposal fell through.
Speaking to The Straits Times, the school's principal Koh Thiam Seng confirmed its bid, saying that SJI is currently 'in active discussion with the Education Ministry'.
A ministry spokesman said it has received the proposal and is evaluating if the Catholic school is ready to offer the seamless six-year programme.
If the ministry gives the go-ahead, SJI students will have the option of bypassing the O levels to take the A levels directly - the key feature of the IP that has been offered in schools such as Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution for six years now.
Unlike these schools though, SJI plans to continue to admit students who want to take the O levels, so that it caters to a diverse group, including those in the through-train programme.
This is not the first time the 158-year-old all-boys school has applied for the programme.
In 2003, The Straits Times reported that SJI had wanted to start the programme in 2005 - but the plans had to be shelved.
Said Dr Koh: 'The first proposal looked at how SJI, together with other Catholic secondary schools, could offer the IP. The proposal did not go through then as the ministry felt the different schools had different cultures.'
When he took over as principal last year, Dr Koh had already planned to go to the ministry to seek approval for the IP.
Mr Michael Sng, former president of the SJI Old Boys' Association, said: 'The IP matters to many parents and students. They want to enjoy the wider breadth of education the IP promises. SJI is a dynamic organisation and needs to respond to changing needs.' He added that SJI has consistently produced excellent students and should be well placed to offer the IP.
'We also want to attract the top students. A disproportionate number of students are going to those few top schools,' Mr Sng said. If the school offers the programme, more parents would be keen to send their children to the school, he added.
Although the news of the application came after the SJI fraternity met last month to discuss the future direction of the school at the annual general meeting (AGM) of its old boys' association, it is understood that the proposal was submitted earlier.
A key item discussed at the AGM was whether SJI should cater more to Catholic boys and those from feeder Christian Brothers' schools - or strike a finer balance to attract the best brains.
Mr Jeffrey Heng, a former member of the board of governors who argued during the AGM that SJI should reserve more places for pupils from affiliated schools rather than go for academic excellence, declined to comment when contacted yesterday.
Will the school, by going the IP way, rival Catholic Junior College (CJC), to which it is affiliated?
Mr Gerard Lee, chairman of CJC's school management committee, does not think so. He sees SJI's bid to offer the IP as being 'positive for the Catholic schools and community'. The junior college is affiliated to all Catholic secondary schools here, including Maris Stella High School and St Patrick's School.
Said Mr Lee: 'Bright students from the Catholic community will get to benefit from a through-train programme, which is missing in all the 15 Catholic schools here.'
While the ministry did not say when it will release details about the outcome of SJI's IP application, it said it will look at the educational benefits and potential impact to the education landscape in its assessment.
Meanwhile, parents and students interviewed said they would welcome SJI offering the IP.
Said Madam Lili Ng, 40, whose son is a Secondary 4 student in SJI: 'If SJI succeeds, I think it would be good news because the IP is known to be for the best students. The school's reputation would improve.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.