Now that I have 2 young ones to educate, I keep a close watch on any shift in Singapore education policies. PM Lee’s National Day Rally on 18 August promised 40 places in EVERY primary school will be set aside for children without any affiliation. To recap, primary school registration is in 3 phases with the number of (fixed) places filled first by Phase 1, then Phase 2, and finally Phase 3.
Phase 1 is for children who have a sibling currently studying in the school of choice. Most parents have no quibble with this phase. After all, it makes sense logistically for parents to ferry 2 or 3 children to one school rather than run around Singapore to fetch them to different places.
Phase 2 is where the situation starts getting more interesting. Phase 2A1is for children whose parents are former students of the school, and the parent has joined the alumni association, or the parent is a member of the school advisory committee. Phase 2A2 is for children whose parents or sibling had studied in the school of choice, or whose parent is a staff member of the school. The link back to one’s alma mater is supposed to build the alumni community (fuzzy concept!). A free pass for selected people… if you the parent do not belong in this category by birth or career choice, aha, there is Phase 2B where the angst starts….
Phase 2B is for children whose parent (1) volunteers who have provided at least 40 hours of service to the school, or (2) is a member endorsed by a clan/church directly connected with the primary school, or (3) is an endorsed community leader. (1) advantages the stay at home parent with time to carry out the community service…. (2) brings up questions of race/ethnicity/heritage and religion into a secular, supposedly race-blind process and (3)…. Well, anedocatal evidence points to category (3) parents who volunteer with Singapore’s ruling party…. Only these people are endorsed.
Then comes that distance factor. Phase 2C is for all Singaporean and PR children who are not yet registered in a primary school, according to the Ministry of Education website. However, schools divide this phase into 2. 2C1 is for children whose registered address is within a 1km radius of the school; 2C2 is for children whose registered address is within a 2km radius of the school. After all distance makes sense correct? Which parent wants a sleepy 7 year old to have a 1 and a half hour commute to school?
Over time, applicants to the ‘good’ schools increasingly become more homogeneous in their family profiles. More than the national average living in private property (proxy for wealth), more than the national average with graduate parents.
Now, if you ask any parent, they will tell you they want the best for their children. Best education, which in the Singapore context, is narrowly defined as the best grades. I disagree with this definition, and hence I am heartened by PM Lee’s policy tweak. My country, my society will be more cohesive because of equal access to education opportunities.