The Ministry of Education (MOE) is reviewing its practice to withhold results slips from students who have unpaid school fees, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in a written reply to parliamentary questions on Monday (6 January).
The review will be completed by November before the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results are released this year.
Responding to a number of questions on the issue from MP Dr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang) and MP Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), Mr Ong acknowledged that the ministry’s current practice “may not be fully effective in urging all parents to pay miscellaneous fees”, though he also said that the MOE will continue to “underscore the responsibilities of families to pay small miscellaneous fees”.
Mr Ong noted that families only pay S$6.50 a month out of pocket for miscellaneous fees for primary school, while another S$6.50 is payable by Edusave, adding that a small payment is “still required” to demonstrate that parents and families have a part to play.
“In fact, most families take this payment very seriously, and it inculcates in children the value of commitment and playing our part, however small,” said Mr Ong.
He went on to explain that the withholding of the PSLE results slip is a last resort in cases where parents accumulate arrears. This measure is taken after they’ve been guided to apply for financial assistance.
He also echoed what he had said before about how schools are sensitive when distributing results slips and ensure that every student receives it the same way.
However, he conceded that a student who receives a copy of their results instead of the original may cause them to feel awkward or embarrassed, through no fault of their own.
“We do not want the children to bear responsibility for the arrears accumulated by their parents,” he said.
The minister’s remarks follow a Facebook post on the issue that went viral and a subsequent petition to the ministry to review this particular practice.
The post, by activist Gilbert Goh, detailed a story of a student who was refused an original copy of her PSLE results last November due to S$156 in unpaid school fees which the family were unable to pay. In the end, a kind donor paid off the arrears, allowing the student to get her original results.
When questions were raised about the incident, MOE at the time said it was a “longstanding practice”.
On Monday, Mr Ong said in his written answer that the school had earlier reached out to the parents of the student in question to give them an application and brochure for MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS). However, Mr Ong said the parents didn’t apply then.
However, they have done so now.
At this point, Mr Ong debunks arguments that it is difficult for families to apply for financial assistance in schools, adding that teachers and staff are on hand to help people with the forms if necessary.
He also said that the FAS by MOE will be granted automatically without the need for further documents if parents simply produce a letter of approval from ComCare.
In his reply, Mr Ong also noted that about 2 per cent of primary 6 cohort each year accumulates arrears and do not apply for financial assistance from his ministry. That’s about 645 pupils last year.
Mr Ong also stressed that the onus on reaching out to families who need assistance cannot be placed solely on schools and teacher.
“When we know of such cases, surface them to the school or our community partners, and help will be extended to them,” he urged.