Friday, 16 August 2013

Don't change the registration system, Make Every School a Good School instead!

Primary school registration is serious business in Singapore. Some even claim that it was one of the most stressful moments in their lives, to register their child for the school of their choice. It is even seriously business in the way money exchanges hands - no, no, not under table coffee money (have you forgotten that this is Singapore?! ). No, I am talking about the fees that some people pay to the primary school they used to attend when they were young, to be an Official Member of the School Alumni. And we're talking about hundreds of dollars here, not tens of dollars. In any case, if this piece of news is anything to go buy, that may change, in future.

Okay first up, if you are confused about what I am going on about, you need to read the following links which will give you a good overview of the issue at hand and the Primary school registration system in Singapore.  

The Mad Scramble to Navigate P1 Registration by Little Blue Bottle will give you an insight into what an average Singaporean HAS TO ask themselves when registering their young ones for primary school. Navigating P1 registration - Selecting a primary school - by Little Blue Bottle will tell you what an average Singaporean SHOULD ask themselves when registering their young ones for primary school. And lastly,  Should the Primary School Registration System be Tweaked? by the same Little Blue Bottle will tell you what this whole issue about the possible change in registration rules is about.

Now, let me state for the record which side of the fence I am on. The hubbs and I both hail from reputable primary schools. So, yes, we are FOR the current system of primary school registration which gives priority to alumni of the respective school. 

In fact, about a month ago, we just registered Isaac for hubbs' alumni school. We thought long and hard about this, whether we should register Isaac for the school. The main factor going against it was the fact that we stay quite far from the school, and we are not likely to move nearer to it. However, the main reason why we decided to go ahead and register Isaac for the school, is mainly because hubbs feels patriotic towards his school. I am not kidding. The only reason why I am not objecting to this, is because it is a good school.

Also, like hubbs, I feel patriotic towards my own primary school as well. I would love to have my daughter go to the same school I did. Gosh, if I even had a choice, I would even want my daughter to go to the same secondary school I was in. Thus, I totally understand hubbs' sense of patriotism. And I think that many people who were from schools they feel patriotic to, would most likely feel the same way.

Some people say this is elitism. Why? Because they are jealous and want to get into these schools too? But why? Most Singaporean parents nowadays are born and bred here, meaning they would be alumni of some primary school as well. In the event that your old school has closed down, I understand you can call MOE to enquire and they will tell you which primary school you can qualify under Phase 2A for as the old schools closed down are usually merged with other primary schools to form a new primary school currently in existence. Hence, almost everyone, barring the non-Singaporeans, would have an alumni school to register at. So why are these people not registering at their own alumni schools but hankering after other people's alumni schools? 

I can tell you why. It is because, it would appear, that the popular schools that have most of their places taken up in Phase2A (the alumni phase) are in fact schools which are above average, good schools. So that is the real issue at the heart of it, isn't it? People want their kids to get into good schools. It doesn't really matter what name it has. I also know of people from so-called neighbourhood schools, who are proud of their schools. And we all know of the neighbourhood schools that have done so well that they have elevated themselves from the moniker of neighbourhood school into a 'branded school' status. These schools also have the Phase 2A alumni issue at play. Is it because these schools have a rich alumni that screams of elitism? No. These schools have the alumni issue because they are good schools! 

So let's face it. The issue is not the registration system. The issue is the quality of the schools. If the Ministry of Education makes good on its promise to Make Every School A Good School like it says it wants to do, then everyone would be more than happy to send their child to their alumni school, or in fact, any school at all - since they are supposedly all good, right? Thus, instead of wasting time and energy to change the registration system, they should work on the real issue of making every school a good school.

The current primary school registration gives priority to alumni, parent volunteering, religious and grassroots connections and also the distance one stays from the school in question. The distance rules have been in place for as long as I can remember. So, now, with the news put out that the Ministry of Education is seriously considering tweaking the primary registration rules, what other option do they have to use as a entrance qualifier? Distance? This smacks even more of elitism, to me.Or rather, it favours the rich. For this means that they can almost guarantee themselves a place if they stay near enough to the school. And we all know that property prices near the good schools are all priced higher because of it.

A fallacy? I hear some of you say? Now, let me assure you that I am probably one of the most qualified people in Singapore to say that it is true that property prices around a good school is higher because of the school. Why? Because I proved it. With empirical evidence. It was my dissertation topic back when I was in school. Here's the proof below, you can go look it up in the Building & Real Estate Library in the National University of Singapore. But yes, it is true 10 years ago, and I am certain it still holds true now. So, to tweak a system such that it will favour the rich the most? Now, if that isn't elitism, I don't know what is.

Some detractors of the alumni system also say the parents who hail from good schools did nothing and just benefited from it. So one day, out of curiosity, I asked my mum how she managed to get my older sister into our primary school. "Because I ligated. Government say Stop at Two."  When I heard this, I was simultaneously shocked, disgusted and felt sorrowful as I remembered how I used to openly hint to my parents that I wanted a younger sibling until my older sister came to me and said "Can you stop it?! Mummy cannot have any more children!" Government said Stop at Two, and we did. And we could go to a good school. Suddenly, I wondered if it wasn't a coincidence that a lot of my and my sister's primary school friends all only had one other sibling. 

A few months ago, at the dinner table at my in laws place, we asked my father-in-law (FIL) the same question: How did he manage to register hubbs for the primary school? This story emerged... Apparently, at that time, there was no unified nor clear system of registration. My FIL went to the school and queued up to want to register hubbs for the school. After quite a few hours, he reached the top of the queue, but the Principal said to him:"Come back tomorrow." The next day, he went again, and was told to "Come back tomorrow" again. He did that every day, for a whole week. Until he got fed up, and told the principal "I have been coming everyday like you told me, for a whole week, and still you have not allowed me to register my son into your school." To which, the principal replied:"Tell me why I should allow you to register? You are not an alumni, you are not even of the same religious belief, so why should we allow you to register?" My FIL replied:"Because the Government said to Stop at Two, and we did!" And so he was allowed to register hubbs for the school. TRUE STORY. I kid you not.

So that is the price we had to pay in order for us to have studied in a good school, and it is a heavy price that is more weighty than 60 hours of volunteer work. It is telling how similar both stories are. It is also sad, that it is this Stop at Two policy that has landed us as the sandwich generation made to bear the cost and stresses of an aging population.

Thus, I have a proposition. You want people to have more kids? Then let people who have three or more kids have their choice of primary school for all their kids. Plus free local university education - detailed discussion of that is for another post. But, I can confidently tell you. that if the government agrees to this two points, this method will definitely bear fruit - pun fully intended. 

Coming back to the real issue however... Make every school a good school! Don't distract the population with changing the registration rules. The only perfect solution to these problems is to truly make every school a good school. When that is done, school registration would merely be a formality. And everyone would be proud of the good schools they come from. So leave the registration system alone and get to work making every school a good school!!!


  1. I totally agree with you on your "Make every school a good school"!

    My Taiwanese husband was shocked by how our Primary School registration system works. He said in Kaohsiung, children just automatically go to the school closest to them because there are no "branded schools" and "second-rate neighbourhood schools". And he was appalled and amused at how Singaporean parents are stressed-out because of it. Well, he can afford to be amused (and not worried) also because his wife was from a "reputable" primary school loh.

    In Taiwan, from what we know, all schools are good schools!


  2. My hub can it understand this whole primary school thing. Where he's from, the kids simply go to the closest school from ther homes. Is every schoo, a good school there? I don't know, but I do know that he had a more carefree childhood and less homework Than I did!


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