By Regina Xie

Old boys of St. Joseph's Institution mobilize to help get Singapore's first Catholic international school off the ground.

Photo shows members of the recently formed SJI International Leadership Council, which is made up of prominent old boys of SJI, with hand-shaped jigsaw pieces taken form an image of the front facade of SJI International. The jigsaw pieces were shaped as hands to symbolize the old boys giving a hand to help their alma mater set up the first Catholic international school in Singapore.

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SINGAPORE - The proposed St. Joseph's Institution (SJI) International School took another step to a January 2007 opening with the formation of a council comprising prominent old boys to guide the setting up of the school.

The SJI International Leadership Council was launched on Jul 17 at the SJI premises at Malcolm Road. SJI International is Singapore's third international school. This first Catholic international school here will be a Lasallian school like SJI.

It will be co-educational, taking in boys and girls from countries in the region, who will be offered an "international curriculum based on the International General Certificate for Secondary Education and the International Baccalaureate diploma", according to a press release by SJI.

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The council is made up entirely of SJI old boys. It has four patrons - Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr George Yeo, Minister for National Development Mr Mah Bow Tan, Minister for Defence Mr Teo Chee Hean, and Chairman of the National Research Foundation Dr Tony Tan - and includes 22 leading founders and 24 founders, all of whom are leaders in government, business and the professions.

Mr Philip Yeo, Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, is the council's chairman and a leading founder. Donning SJI uniforms, complete with ties and jackets, members of the council gathered at SJI's Malcolm Road campus for the launch. Mr Philip Yeo, who had gathered the old boys together to form the council, said in his speech, "Many of you have responded positively to my invitation because like me, you have gained much from your days in SJI, and are ready to do your part for our alma mater. Many of us are also here out of a sense of service that we have towards the education of our young people."

The council has already raised more than $750,000 for the school, three quarters of its aim of $1 million. To recognize this strong support, 50 scholarships will be offered to outstanding SJI students upon completion of their 'O' Levels.

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Above, SJI old boys, donned in SJI uniforms, chat at the launching of the SJI International Leadership Council on Jul 17. From left, Michael Sng (SJIOBA President), Ernest Wong, Philip Yeo (SJI International Leadership Council Chairman), Benjamin Lui (SJI Principal) and Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo.

Also present at the launch were SJI staff. Brother Michael Broughton, Area Director for the De La Salle Brothers and Deputy Principal of SJI, said the event was significant for two reasons.

In forming the council, the old boys were "publicly demonstrating their continued strong support of their alma mater and the mission of SJI old boys and friends of the school and the De La Salle Brothers". The event also marked "another important step forward in what will be a milestone in the work of the De La Salle Brothers in Singapore".

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"The establishment of SJI International marks the first foray in Singapore by Catholic Schools into privately funded education, and into international education. Privately funded schools are not uncommon amongst the Lasallian schools around the world."

The idea of SJI International, however, was initiated by the Economic Development Board (EDB), which first approached SJI three years ago. According to Brother Michael, it was not considered then, but when EDB approached SJI again last year, SJI saw a "limited window of opportunities".

"We realized that we were going to be the only Catholic school approached, and if we turned down this opportunity, there would be no Catholic alternative for private international schooling. Our Catholic children would have to go to Anglo-Chinese School (International) or Hwa Chong International School, or abroad if they wanted to," he said.

Foreign Minister Mr George Yeo, who was guest-of-honour at the council's launch, gave further justification for the setting up of SJI International. "SJI has built up a strong tradition of excellence, and should build on this, do even more and break new ground," he said. "As a privately funded school, SJI International will be freer to experiment and implement new initiatives faster… The larger presence of foreign students in SJI International will create a more cosmopolitan and diverse learning environment which will benefit SJI as well."

An interim Governing Board comprising representatives from the De La Salle Brothers, SJI Board of Governors and SJI Old Boys' Association (SJIOBA) is spearheading the setting up of SJI International.

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Chairman Mr Lawrence da Silva, a company director and retired education administrator, said, "The preparatory work for SJI International is at an advanced stage and we are on schedule to open the school in January next year once Ministry of Education approval is obtained." The ministry is expected to consider the new school's application for privately funded school status in August. SJI International will have to adhere to MOE's bilingual policy and incorporate National Education into its curriculum.

At least 50 percent of its students will be Singaporeans or permanent residents. The interim Governing Board has appointed Brother Michael as Brother President and Mr Andrew Bennett, former Head of United World College (UWC) of South East Asia in Singapore, as Principal-designate.

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Above, Brother Michael Broughton helps Principal-designate Andrew Bennett wear the SJI blazer as a symbolic gesture of Mr Bennett joining the SJI family.

Mr Bennett, 57, who had been with UWC from 1981 to 2004, is considered an expert in the field of international education. On top of recruiting the best and most experienced teachers from Singapore and abroad, he will work with Brother Michael to "develop a strong Catholic and Lasallian culture for SJI International, drawing on SJI's 155 years of tradition of excellence."

Religious and Moral Education will be a core part of SJI International's curriculum. It aims to have Catholics make up at least 30 percent of its students and teachers. It will also have a chapel, where Masses will be held every first Friday of the month. Holy week, feast days and major Catholic events will be observed and celebrated.

Continuing the De La Salle Brothers' mission of bringing quality education to all, regardless of race, creed and socio-economic background, those involved in the setting up of SJI International are determined to ensure that it will always be able to take in students from less well-off families.

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"The more we are able to provide scholarships to them, the more will we be able to attract the best students on a need-blind basis, both Singaporean and non-Singaporean. It will take us many years to achieve this ideal but it should always be our objective," said Mr George Yeo.

Need-blind admission is a policy in which the admitting institution does not consider an applicant's financial situation when deciding admission. This usually requires the institution to back the policy with a source of funding.

With loans of $10 million from the EDB and $500,000 from the District Council of the De La Salle Brothers, and negotiations with the government for a site in Thomson Road for its campus, SJI International is off to a good start.

"This project was fraught with obstacles but we overcame them. It's a sign that we have God's blessings," said Brother Michael. "I am extra confident because of the genuine support and initiative of many old boys, especially those in the interim SJI International Governing Board."

To create awareness of SJI International among the public, an information talk was held on Jul 22 at the SJI Performing Arts Centre. About 200 parents and students attended the talk, and toured the school.

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