“Do we want a system where children are penalized for their parents’ problems?” – SDP’s Dr Paul Tambyah

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Chairman Dr Paul Tambyah asked if the ministry really believes that it is right to “punish or humiliate their children for the failings of their parents”.

Dr Tambyah was referring to the recent exchange between the Ministry of Education and political activist Gilbert Goh about the MOE’s policy on not releasing the original PSLE results to students who haven’t paid up their school fees.

The exchange started on Monday (25 November) when Mr Goh wrote a Facebook post in which he talked about a student whose original PSLE results slip was withheld because her parents hadn’t paid S$165 in school fees. Describing the denial as “rubbing salt into the wound of poverty”, Mr Goh wondered “how many poor Singaporean students could not get hold of their actual PSLE report card when they owed school fees due to their adverse family situation”.

“Moreover, it is also not a lot of money owed but the shame in getting a photostated copy of the PSLE  result slip must have weighed heavily on the shoulders of those who are poor and needy when most of their peers have the genuine ones,” he added.

“We spent tens of millions annually on scholarship and bursaries for foreigner students but yet there is apparent neglect to care for our own!” Goh alleged, adding: “Shame on you MOE!”

Mr Goh then shared that a good samaritan had paid off the student’s outstanding fees, thus allowing her to acquire the actual PSLE certificate which she would need to produce when applying for admission into secondary school.

Responding to Mr Goh’s post, MOE had cited “long-standing practice” as a justification for why the original PSLE certificate was withheld, noting that it was not done with the intention of recovering money but that everyone should not ignore their obligations, no matter how small.

MOE told Yahoo! News Singapore on Tuesday (26 November) that the real aim for the practice “stems from the underlying principle that notwithstanding the fact that the cost of education is almost entirely publicly funded, we should still play our part in paying a small fee, and it is not right to ignore that obligation, however small it is”.

“Further, students from lower-income families can apply for financial assistance that covers their miscellaneous fees, uniforms, textbooks, transport and school meals. If it is about money then the easier solution would be to reduce subsidies and financial assistance,” said the ministry.

Responding to MOE’s reply, Mr Goh on Wednesday (27 November) shared the account of a parent of two primary school students — one in Primary One and the other in Primary Six — who said that her children’s school “didn’t say anything during the collection” of her son’s PSLE results.

Penalising children for their parents’ failings

In his own Facebook post, Dr Tambyah supported Mr Goh stance. Dr Tambyah said in the comments section of his post that “Not everyone agrees with Gilbert Goh all the time but this is one time, he is on the right track”, and shared a link to a crowdfunding campaign started by Mr Goh to help pay backlogged school fees for needy children.

Dr Tambyah remarked on his post: “Does MOE really believe that it is right to punish or humiliate children for the failings of their parents? This is the same ministry which provides $238 million a year in scholarships and tuition grants for foreigners in Singapore.”

Dr Tambyah then referred to another statement made by the MOE which said: “Our educators, parents and members of (the) public will have to decide whether MOE’s action is fair and educationally sound, and what the lesson of this teachable moment for our children is.”

Referring to that quote, Dr Tambyah said on, “Yes indeed. Do we want a system where children are penalized for their parents’ problems or one where every child has an equal opportunity to get an original certificate and by extension a chance to succeed?”

He added, “We really need the SDP in parliament so we can ask the hard questions and help build a democratic society based on justice and equality.”

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