NJC: College of the Nation
With not the subtlest of names, one can’t help but to wonder if the National Junior College is the national junior college. The National Junior College (NJC) was established on 20 January 1969 as the first junior college in Singapore. Its College of the Nation mandate is evident in the large number of politicians and public service leaders among its alumni. They include current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Cabinet Ministers Gan Kim Yong, Lim Swee Say, Ng Eng Hen, S Iswaran and Vivian Balakrishnan, and opposition party Members of Parliament such as Sylvia Lim and Chen Show Mao – the last even topped the 1979 GCE Advanced Level examinations in Singapore.
Despite its location among a cluster of prestigious schools that include the Hwa Chong Junior College, Nanyang Girls’ High School, Raffles’ Girls’ Primary School and the Chinese High School, the NJC has a national agenda to cater for the masses. The school has no affiliation to any primary or secondary school and opens its doors to all students.
One does not have to look beyond the school crest and uniform for its national mission. The grey uniform has a modest look but grand purpose as it was meant to symbolise the ordinary working people, and to exemplify NJC’s aspirations and links with the masses. This uniform was jointly designed by the founding principal Lim Kim Woon and then Minister for Education Ong Pang Boon.
The school anthem, written and sang in the national language Malay, was composed by renowned Singaporean composer Leong Yoon Pin. His other notable works include the concert overture Dayong Sampan and the opera Bunga Mawar. Leong was awarded a cultural medallion for his musical contributions in 1982.
The history of the nation’s first junior college began as early as in December 1965, during the first parliamentary session held in independent Singapore, when Minister for Education Ong Pang Boon called for special secondary schools (called junior colleges) to be built. These junior colleges would alleviate pressure for space in secondary schools where both secondary and pre-university classes were held. They would also better prepare students for university life with a gradual transition from structured classroom learning to an environment of more independent learning.
It was announced in July 1966, that the National Junior College, the first of four junior colleges, would be built at Linden Drive. Construction also began for a larger purpose-built compound at its current location at 37 Hillcrest Road.
The Straits Times reported on 27 October 1968: “Personality and proficiency in a second language will be among the chief determining factors in the selection of students for Singapore’s first National Junior College which opens in the first week of January… The college aims at proving an education which is not only examination and career oriented, but also society and life oriented.”
On 20 January 1969, NJC conducted an inaugural assembly for its pioneer batch of students. The school was only officially opened on 14 May 1970 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
NJC also paved the way on the art front and became the first junior college to offer the Art Elective Programme (AEP). In January 1985, NJC introduced the AEP to groom students with a penchant and talent for art. The Singapore Monitor reported on 21 November 1984: “National Junior College will offer the art programme as a two-year course to prepare students for a special Art examination at the GCE ‘A’ level… The art programme is aimed at helping the bright students to become more well-rounded and appreciative of aesthetic and creative activities.”
According to The Business Times on 1 January 1985: “The new school year saw the start of the art elective and gifted education programmes. The art elective programme (AEP), with 80 vacancies, got off with 52 pupils enrolled at Nanyang Girls’ High School and Chinese High School. They will be the first batch of students to offer the special art paper at GCE “O” level in 1987. But this year will see two more secondary schools and the National Junior College (NJC) offering the programme as well, each with 40 places. NJC will prepare the students for the “A” level AEP paper.”
NJC continues to be a champion for the arts in terms of youth development. Since January 2016, the institution is now the first AEP Centre to offer the programme to external secondary school student. It owns a well-equipped Art Centre, which boasts top facilities including a multimedia resource room, a casting room, a 3-dimensional pottery and sculpture studio, a drawing and painting studio, a pottery kiln room and a photography darkroom.
As the first junior college, NJC became the blueprint for other junior colleges. It remains a national junior college and continues to cater for the masses with no affiliation. In fact, the current JC1 and Secondary 1 students hail from different backgrounds across almost 100 secondary and primary schools. NJC is truly the college of the nation.