By: Jeraldine Phneah

I am writing this post because I am deeply concerned by the existing admission of primary school students on it’s impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds in our society.

The recent statistics released by the Ministry of Education revealing that one in every five primary school students enter by ‘connections’ is a worrying one (“20% of P1 places go to those with ties to school“; June 25).

The Straits Times, the Ministry of Education (MOE) last Friday said about 7,500 out of 40,000 places were taken up at phases 2A and 2B of last year’s exercise. The figure was similar to the year before.

While I understand that priority is given due to appreciation for serving the community and school as well as the alumni, I feel that allocating more than enough places to this group may widen the social inequality.

Firstly, the current situation seems to be in favour of richer families. In the lower income families, Parents from poor families cannot afford the time to do community service or volunteering with the school as the opportunity cost in doing so is earning money. This is especially so in the case of single parents where they are the sole breadwinner.

Additionally, it was reported in 2009 that students from prestigious primary and secondary schools such as Tao Nan, Nanyang Primary, CHIJ, Raffles Girls Primary and Tao Nan, tend to come from parents who are degree holders.

Then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew attributed this phenomenon to the “more favourable learning environment at home” shaped by better-educated parents, highlighting the increasing deficiency of the system in ensuring and realizing meritocracy.

Due to an excellent education, a great proportion of these students goes on to university and have a higher income. If their children are given too much priority to enter primary school, we seem to be creating an ‘entrenched elite’ in our society.

Additionally, not all of these alumni have contributed back to their schools.

NEARLY a fifth of Primary 1 places in the last two years were taken up under registration phases which give priority to school alumni, parent volunteers and community leaders.

Our current primary school system is already unfavourable to the poor as many of the good primary schools are located in wealthy districts. For instance, ACS primary is located in Novena and Tao Nan is located in Katong.

This enables students from richer families to enter much more easily than those from poorer ones.

Given the fact that an additional one-fifth of the place is given to students with ‘connections’ to the school, would this not increase our social inequality even more?

I strongly urge the Ministry of Education to relook this scheme so as to help children from poorer families have an opportunity to advance themselves.

The current admission system also seems to give too much priority to Permanent Residents (PRs).

It is only in the balloting system where Singaporeans are given priority over PRs.

However, for Phases 1 and 2A, all eligible applicants are admitted and no balloting is required. This means that PRs who qualify under these phases will still have priority over Singaporeans who do not qualify.

As such, I believe that PRs should not be given the privilege of admissions via Phases 1 and 2A. This will ensure that citizens have absolute priority in the entire Primary 1 registration exercise.

Another urgent matter would also be helping students from poor families catch up with students from richer ones who have the privilege of affording private tuition.

A society that is entirely equal is an unachievable ideal and dream for most people. However, this does not mean we should not strive towards it or undermine the equality of opportunity in our system.

By allowing privileged children to congregate in premium primary schools, they will stand a chance to enter similar secondary schools due to affiliations or good resources.

As such, this will enable the rich to be invested with the best resources in the form of good teachers and world-class facilities, and will result in concentration of power and influence within this small circle of the elites.

Singapore currently faces a severe income gap, with one of the world’s highest Gini coefficients — a figure of 0.45 when adjusted to include government transfers, and excluding the incomes earned by foreign workers here (2013).

Other than the popular method of taxes, education is a way for us to improve social mobility of the poor in the long run, by removing the barriers that their children have to excelling in life.

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