Commenting on the ongoing saga, academic and retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan said that the entire issue of the Ministry of Education (MOE) withholding a student’s PSLE certificate because of unpaid school fees “betrays the fact that we are [Singapore is] getting effete”.
On his Facebook page, Mr Kausikan shared a letter that was written in to and published on The Straits Times Forum in which a K. Ramakrishnan said that MOE has “missed the forest for the trees”.
The author explained that receiving their PSLE results is a momentous day for young students, so holding back the original results and giving them only a photocopy due to unpaid fees is “cruel”.
The author added, “MOE explained why it did what it did, but surely there are other ways to persuade these defaulting parents to pay up.”
On his post, Mr Kausikan said “This entire issue betrays the fact that we are getting effete.”
He added, “This is politically incorrect and I expect to be attacked. So attack. It is still effete.”
He then questioned: “What happened to the ‘rugged society’?”
Mr Kausikan was referring to a statement made by Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, who said in his 1966 National Day address that he hoped to build a “rugged society” that will enable Singapore to stand on its own two feet.
In the comments section of Mr Kausikan’s post, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching said she has a different take on the issue.
Mdm Ho who is also the CEO of Temasek Holdings said, “The pre-teen kid has studied and worked hard for her PSLE. We should give her, her PSLE certificate. Go after the parents by all means for their debt, but why inflict this on the child?”
She continued, “When families run into trouble, they can be overwhelmed, and may not even think of their kids or their kids’ school miscellaneous fees.”
Mdm Ho went on to explain that the case is different if it was an O Level, A Level or ITE/Poly or university student because “these are older kids who are capable of asking for help” or can take up part-time jobs to earn pocket money and pay school fees.
Mdm Ho then said that she thinks schools can be “creative” in helping solve this issue and create this ‘rugged society’.
She suggested, “One way is to create simple part-time volunteer duties with allowances – it can create volunteer roles for library work, traffic crossing assistance for even younger kids, tutoring younger buddies, PE assistants, manning the bookstore, and such like, so that kids can volunteer and earn an allowance for themselves.”
“This way, kids can earn allowances to pay for their school miscellaneous fees, if their families run into trouble, buy books, food or toys,” she explained.
She added that teachers and school staff can “go the extra mile” to visit families at home to find out what’s happening when fees go unpaid, and even call social workers for help is necessary.
She said, “I know of many teachers who go that extra mile when students are absent, or turn up late frequently, etc.”
Last week Monday (25 November), activist and career counsellor Gilbert Goh called attention to a student he knew of who only received a photocopy of her PSLE results instead of the original slip because the family had incurred S$156 in unpaid school fees.
Mr Goh described the denial of the original slip as “rubbing salt into the wound of poverty”. He 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.
Mr Goh called out MOE for spending tens of millions annually on scholarship and bursaries for foreign students while there is “apparent neglect to care for our own”.
“Shame on you MOE!” he blasted.
In response, MOE told Yahoo! News Singapore that the “long-standing practice” of withholding the original copy of a student’s Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results slip is not based on the intention of “recovering the money”.
They said on Tuesday (26 November) in response to queries that the real aim of doing so “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”.
The Ministry also the news site, “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.
The ministry noted that the parents of the primary school student in question had not settled the miscellaneous school fees for two years in spite of several reminders. Additionally, her parents had not applied for any financial assistance either from MOE or the school, which the ministry explained: “would have covered all the costs”.
MOE added that the primary school student “will still receive a copy of the results”, and “can still apply for secondary schools and will progress like all students”, in response to Goh’s assertion that a student’s “actual” or original copy of their PSLE results will be required for admission into secondary school.
MOE’s response subsequently drew the ire of many Singaporeans, including Singapore Democratic Party chairman Dr Paul Tambyah who felt that the current policy is cruel and that students should not be punished for the failings of their parents.