National Junior College
National Junior College (NJC) was opened in 1969 as Singapore’s first junior college. It moved to its current location on Hillcrest Road in July 1995.1 Originally situated at Linden Drive, NJC is the first specialised government school to be established for the nation’s top pre-university students.2 Although classes commenced in January 1969, its official opening was held more than a year later on 14 May 1970.3 NJC is recognised as one of the top junior colleges in Singapore and has produced numerous leaders, including current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, current Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, and the former chief executive officer of Kandang Kerbau Hospital, Jennifer Lee.4
In May 1965, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced plans to build a “super secondary boarding school” in the Jurong area where Singapore’s top students would be given the best possible education. However, the proposal was criticised for being elitist and was not taken forward.5 The following month, then Minister for Education Ong Pang Boon disclosed plans to centralise pre-university teaching under four junior colleges so as to increase pre-university enrolment and raise the standard of education.6
The plan to establish junior colleges remained in place after Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. In December 1965, during the first parliamentary session of independent Singapore, Ong announced that special secondary schools called junior colleges would be built. The reasons for establishing such institutions were to optimise the use of teachers and laboratory facilities and to alleviate the pressure for space in existing secondary schools where both secondary and pre-university classes were being held. The junior colleges would admit students from all language streams so as to facilitate integration among the ethnic groups.7
Planning the new college
The government announced in July 1966 that the first of four planned junior colleges would be built at the junction of Linden Drive and Dunearn Road.8 The design of the S$1.6-million college was based on a new secondary school model – adopted in 1965 – that required less land while providing for a wide range of modern education facilities.9 In 1967, construction work began on the new school, which by then had been named National Junior College. Scheduled for completion by the end of 1968, the new college would have 30 classrooms, 10 science laboratories, two lecture theatres, an audio-visual aids room, a library, a hall, a canteen as well as capacity for 1,200 students.10
In September 1968, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced the appointment of Lim Kim Woon, a mathematics lecturer at the Teachers’ Training College (present-day National Institute of Education), as NJC’s first principal. Having received both Chinese and Western styles of education, the bilingual Lim was picked to head the new college following an interview with the education minister, Ong Pang Boon, during which the topic of integrated schools was discussed.11 Lim explained during a press interview in November 1968 that the main objectives of Singapore’s first junior college were to offer high-quality, well-rounded pre-university education and to produce patriotic students who would be willing to serve and lead the country.12
Lim personally selected 25 teachers from a shortlist provided by MOE. Together with Lim, this pioneer group of NJC teachers established a new education system for pre-university students in Singapore.13 While pre-university classes in secondary schools had been limited to mornings because these schools operated double sessions on a five-day week, NJC would run a single-session, six-day week to ensure a higher standard of education by allowing more time for teaching and learning as well as extra-curricular activities. Small tutorial groups consisting of 10 students each would be formed to facilitate closer student-teacher interaction. This was modelled after the university tutorial system to prepare students for the academic environment at the tertiary level.14
Besides academic studies, emphasis was placed on extra-curricular activities and physical fitness programmes. In addition, students were required to attend courses in civics and current affairs as well as participate in community projects. As part of the curriculum, prominent public figures would also be invited to give talks and seminars to the students about present-day realities.15
Classes would be conducted in English and Mandarin, with the study of a second language made compulsory to encourage bilingualism, considered an important skill in a multi-lingual society like Singapore. At the same time, students would have opportunities to interact with their peers from neighbouring countries, as places would be reserved for government-sponsored Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) scholars.16
Selecting the first students
A stringent process was put in place for selecting the first batch of students. Applicants were not only expected to have outstanding academic results. Their personality, proficiency in a second language, sporting abilities as well as participation in extra-curricular activities would be taken into consideration.17 Lim had said that the college wanted students who were “ready to serve the country, society and the community”, “willing to fight for survival”, and “ready to provide solutions to all kinds of problems” that Singapore would face.18
Applications for admission were open to local students – from all four language streams (English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil) – from 28 October 1968 to 13 November 1968.19 Students in ASEAN countries were also invited to apply for places in the college, with the government offering 25 scholarships, each worth S$1,200 a year, to cover school fees, board and lodging expenses.20 More than 2,000 students applied for the 600 available places in the college. Special panels were set up to interview both local applicants and ASEAN scholars.21
In the lead-up to the opening of NJC, the media portrayed the college as an “elite”, “special” school for a “lucky six hundred” pioneer group of “super students” who would be moulded into “a new generation of leaders” for Singapore.22 This led to questions being raised in parliament about the perceived elitist nature of the college and its treatment of students from the Malay and Tamil streams.23
In response, Ong, the education minister, denied that NJC was meant to be an elite school and was against describing it as such. He explained that the college was being established to provide pre-university students with a better study environment than what was then available in secondary schools. The college’s broad education system was designed to produce well-rounded and patriotic students who would likely play active roles in society. On the issue of language streams, Ong informed parliament that lessons in the college would be conducted in English and Mandarin. However, he gave assurance that students from the Malay and Tamil streams would be eligible for admission if they showed sufficient ability to follow classes in English. Such students would also be given extra lessons to improve their English language proficiency.24
Opening of NJC
On 20 January 1969, NJC held its inaugural assembly for its pioneer batch of students. This first cohort later called themselves the “Sixty-niners”.25 There were 572 of them, with 208 in the Chinese stream and 364 in the English stream. About two-thirds of the students were enrolled in the science stream, while the rest were in the arts stream.26 However, many students eventually took up both science and arts subjects because, unlike in other pre-university schools, students in NJC had the freedom and flexibility to choose their subjects under the college’s lecture and tutorial system. This resulted in over 40 different combinations of Higher School Certificate (HSC) examination subjects.27 Besides general paper, which was compulsory, other subjects offered to students included art, biology, chemistry, physics, economics, English literature, geography, history and mathematics.28
Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew officially declared NJC open on 14 May 1970. Lee used the occasion to announce that another six to eight junior colleges would be opened within the next few years by Christian missions, Chinese clan associations and the MOE.29
The Sixty-niners took the HSC examinations in 1970, and their outstanding performance proved that the first junior college experiment was an academic success. NJC was the best performing school in Singapore, with 81.6 percent of students obtaining full pass certificates. Its Chinese stream students also achieved the highest passing rate in Singapore, with 93.2 percent obtaining full certificate passes. Then NJC student Christopher Huang emerged as the top HSC student in Singapore with 12 distinctions. The college also had the highest number of scholarship winners that year: seven President’s Scholars, two Overseas Merit Scholars, two Singapore Armed Forces Scholars and 34 Colombo Plan Scholars.30
Through the years, NJC has continued to be a pioneer in the field of pre-university education. In 1985, it became the first junior college in Singapore to introduce the Art Elective Programme to groom talented arts students.31 In line with its focus on multilingualism, NJC also became the first junior college to offer German as part of its Language Elective Programme in 1992.32
NJC was awarded the inaugural Lee Kuan Yew National Education Award in 2002 for its efforts in instilling its students with a sense of national identity and social responsibility.33 Two years later, it was among the first schools to offer a four-year Integrated Programme (IP) that allowed secondary 3 students to skip their GCE ‘O’ Level examination and proceed directly to take their ‘A’ levels in the fourth year of the programme.34 In 2009, the IP was extended to six years to allow the admission of students at the secondary 1 level.35
School crest amd uniform
The school crest was modelled after Singapore’s national flag. It features a golden lion representing Singapore, and is set against a red and white background with horizontal bars of each colour. The white bars represent the four official languages of Singapore, while the red bars represent the five stars on the Singapore flag.36
The uniform comprises a grey top and a bottom in a matching colour. The male student’s uniform consists of a pair of trousers and a shirt with shoulder epaulettes and breast pockets buttoned down by square, silver buttons embossed with the school crest. Female students wear an A-line skirt with a blouse similar to the boys’ shirt but without the breast pockets. On formal occasions, students wear their grey uniform with a maroon tie featuring the school crest, or a white shirt with both the tie and a red jacket featuring the school crest.37
1. “S'pore's Oldest Junior College Moves to a New Campus,” Straits Times, 3 July 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
2. William Campbell, “Singapore Builds a New Step in Higher Education,” Straits Times, 16 January 1968, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Wong Moh Keed, ed., And They Called Us Car Park Attendants: Singapore’s First JC (Singapore: National Junior College, 2009), 2–3, 145. (Call no. RSING 378.1543095957 AND)
4. “Oldest JC Is Still a Model for Newer Ones,” Straits Times, 28 November 1992, 7; Lee Jian Xuan, “Founding Principal of S'pore's First Junior College dies, Aged 81,” Straits Times, 7 July 2014, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Lee Plans a Super Eton-Style Boarding School,” Straits Times, 3 May 1965, 20. (From NewspaperSG); Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 6.
6. “Second College for Teacher Training to Be Set Up: Ong,” Straits Times, 18 June 1965, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Singapore. Parliament, Yang di-Pertuan Negara’s Speech: (Debate on the Address (Fifth Day), vol. 24 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 20 December 1965, col. 348. (Call no. RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
8. Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 8.
9. Ivy Siow, “Moulding Leaders,” Straits Times, 10 November 1968, 12. (From NewspaperSG); Ministry of Education, Annual Report 1965 (Singapore: Govt. Printer, 1966), 5–6. (Call no. RCLOS 370.95951 SIN); Ministry of Education, Annual Report 1966 (Singapore: Govt. Printer, 1967), 6. (Call no. RCLOS 370.95951 SIN)
10. Ministry of Education, Annual Report 1967 (Singapore: Govt. Printer, 1968), 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 370.95951 SIN)
11. “Specialist Heads Our First Junior College,” Straits Times, 19 September 1968, 7. (From NewspaperSG); Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 9–10.
12. Siow, “Moulding Leaders.”
13. Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 12.
14. Campbell, “Singapore Builds a New Step in Higher Education”; Chia Poteik, “Applications Open on Monday for Singapore’s New College of the Elite,” Straits Times, 27 October 1968, 4. (From NewspaperSG); Siow, “Moulding Leaders.”
15. Siow, “Moulding Leaders.”
16. Siow, “Moulding Leaders.”
17. Chia, “Applications Open on Monday”; Siow, “Moulding Leaders.”
18. “College for Super Students in Singapore,” Straits Times, 30 September 1968, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Chia, “Applications Open on Monday”; Singapore. Parliament, Budget, Ministry of Education, vol. 28 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 17 December 1968, col. 469. (Call no. RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
20. “Singapore Offers 25 ASEAN Scholarships,” Straits Times, 10 October 1968, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “2,000 Apply to Join Republic’s Super School,” Straits Times, 27 November 1968, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “‘Special’ Schools,” (1967, September 26). Straits Times, 26 September 1967, 10; Campbell, “Singapore Builds a New Step in Higher Education”; “College for Super Students in Singapore”; “Lucky Six Hundred,” Straits Times, 3 October 1968, 20; Siow, “Moulding Leaders.”
23. Singapore. Parliament, Budget, Ministry of Education, cols. 467–468.
24. Singapore. Parliament, Budget, Ministry of Education, cols. 467–469; “Junior College Isn’t an Elite School: Ong,” Straits Times, 18 December 1968, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 2–3.
26. Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 21.
27. Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 54.
28. Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 58–60.
29. “More Aid for ASEAN Students,” Straits Times, 15 May 1970, 1. (From NewspaperSG); Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 145.
30. “1,396 Pass HSC Chinese Exam,” Straits Times, 19 February 1971, 19; Masie Kwee, “Success Is 90 per Cent Perspiration, Says Top Pupil Christopher,” Straits Times, 7 March 1971, 3. (From NewspaperSG); Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 164.
31. “Two Schools to Start Flair for Art Programme,” Straits Times, 25 August 1983, 14; “Three More Schools to Offer AEP Programme,” Business Times, 2 August 1984, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “NJC to Have A-level German,” Straits Times, 29 September 1991, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Lee Ching Wern, “NJC Wins LKY Award,” Today, 13 August 2002, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Lynn Lee and Nicola Cheong, “Life in the Fast Lane,” Straits Times, 3 January 2004, H1. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Jane Ng, “NJC to Take in Students from Sec 1,” Straits Times, 19 February 2008, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “College Crest,” National Junior College, last updated 29 September 2021.
37. Wong, Called Us Car Park Attendants, 33–34.
June Tan, “3 More JCs Added to List of Centres,” Straits Times, 23 October 1986, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
Martin Khor, “Junior College: Vigorous, Vibrant,” Straits Times, 14 March 1971, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
National Junior College (Singapore), National Junior College (Singapore: The College, 1970). (Call no. RCLOS 378.1543095957 NJC)
Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, National Junior College, 14 May 1970, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, 1988, videocassette. (Call no. RSING 378.1543095957 NAT)
“The Four Fold Emphasis in Singapore’s Education Plan,” Straits Times, 21 December 1965, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 18 November 2014 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.