The JAE-IP divide - Should you worry about it?

@Jade Ow Yanhui

Posted January 05, 2020
Last modified January 05, 2020

3 mins read

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The JAE-IP divide is a common source of fear for incoming students. This article was written with input from both JAE and IP students to ensure that we are able to represent both sides of the issue.


It is a problem which many of us have come across in one way or another. Meritocracy has led to a class divide of another kind - the “elite school students” and the “neighbourhood school students” - which has resulted in the fear of not fitting in. The issue is exacerbated when Integrated Programme students, perceived as isolated from society, are put together with ‘O’ Level graduates for the remainder of their two-year education journey.


There are currently 8 mainstream junior colleges that offer both the integrated programme and entry by the standard JAE (Joint Admissions Exercise) process. They are Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), River Valley High School, Raffles Institution, Hwa Chong Institution, Temasek Junior College, Victoria Junior College, Dunman High School and Eunoia Junior College (for simplification purposes, art schools and IB schools are not listed here). In almost every one of those Junior Colleges, some of the most common questions that a prospective student asks are: Will I be able to blend in with the IP crowd? Will I have to fight tooth and nail just to find my place in the school?


A valid question, that much is certain. After all, the student is stepping into an academic environment where almost everyone else already knows each other from either a 4-year secondary education or through special programmes for the IP students. From yearly talks to seminars to early orientation programmes, the IP student is clearly already better accustomed to the college by the time the O Level student arrives on their first day.


Furthermore, IP students may not always mix around with the new students since they already have their own cliques, or circle of friends. The same goes for new JAE students, who would tend to gravitate towards the other 'O' Level graduates - people with similar experiences. That is a social norm, to be wary of newcomers and strangers and to cling on to the familiar. However, when this is placed on a much larger scale, a worrying pattern along clear lines of division begins to emerge. The result is a phenomenon commonly known as the JAE-IP divide.


As a JAE student notes, "It's a subconscious thing that happens with the mindset. After a while there's an us versus them attitude which is not easy to fix." Schools tend to assure students that eventually, people will start to open up and accept them. However, even at the very beginning, the rejection stings. The psychological damage done to a student who has faced any form of discrimination must be recognised and rectified.


And therein lies the problem of the divide. How, then, can it be corrected?


The first step lies with the system. Schools should be careful not to engage in behaviour which could be discriminatory, or viewed as discriminatory. For example, many IP schools now wait for the JAE cohort to enter the school before allowing the entire cohort to choose their co-curricular activities at the same time. As much as possible, programmes and pathways granted to IP students must also be accessible to JAE students.


Next, the mindset of the student body also matters when it comes to this problem. At the very core, the divide stems from two groups of individuals with vastly different experiences. Where the root cause of the divide is the fear of being the outcast, we must then learn to actively include the people around us. This involves being mindful of our peers and learning how to interact with them naturally. As one IP student says, “We’re as nervous as you are. Perhaps if all of us were a bit more sociable and outgoing, things would be a lot better for everyone.”


With all of that said, it is heartening to see schools and students alike taking the initiative to welcome their JAE counterparts so that their transition is as smooth as possible. Hwa Chong Institution, notably, has a buddy system where new students are paired with existing ones during orientation. Eunoia Junior College emphasises “Goodwill to All” from the very first day, and the school takes pains to avoid any form of segmentation amongst students. All of those are great first steps.


However, we cannot just stop here. If we are serious about making things right, we must pause and ask ourselves what we as individuals can do within the Junior College community, to ensure that no one is treated unfairly. When we look at the JAE student who is valiantly trying to win a place in the Student Council, let us look past the popularity of the other student that everyone else already knows. When we see a junior who does not know his way around, let us be the person to lend a helping hand. When we see a new classmate left out during orientation, let us be the person who goes and strikes up that first conversation.


It is about time that the voiceless gets a voice. And we have a duty to listen.

Author @Jade Ow Yanhui

A free spirit at heart with a passion for anything creative, Jade enjoys all forms of writing. She often dreams of escaping the ordinary and planning her life once she gets out of the education system. While the 'A' Level Examinations eat up much of her time, you can occasionally find her daydreaming by the Bishan river, under some trees, or just daydreaming in general. She runs a blog at tinygreenstone.com.

Editor @Jade Ow Yanhui

A free spirit at heart with a passion for anything creative, Jade enjoys all forms of writing. She often dreams of escaping the ordinary and planning her life once she gets out of the education system. While the 'A' Level Examinations eat up much of her time, you can occasionally find her daydreaming by the Bishan river, under some trees, or just daydreaming in general. She runs a blog at tinygreenstone.com.