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“I do not think many families like to owe money especially over education” – WP member shares his thoughts on unpaid school fees saga

"With persistent unpaid fees, there are often stories behind these which can only be known if we probe further," said Yee Jenn Jong

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Workers’ Party (WP) member Yee Jenn Jong has shared his thoughts on the viral case in which a student’s original PSLE results slip was withheld due to unpaid school fees.

The student’s story came to light on Monday (25 Nov), when socio-political activist Gilbert Goh shared on Facebook that the student had only been given a photocopy of her PSLE results slip since she had a backlog of unpaid school fees amounting to S$156, due to her family’s financial situation. Mr Goh added that the student would need the PSLE “certificate” to apply for secondary school admission.

Responding to Mr Goh’s post on Tuesday (26 Nov), MOE told CNA that the withholding of PSLE original results slips due to school fee arrears is “a long-standing practice” and that the student can still progress to secondary school using the photocopy of the results slip.

Revealing that the student’s family did not pay miscellaneous fees for two years despite several reminders and did not apply for MOE or school-based financial assistance which would have covered all the costs, MOE asserted that the issue was “not about recovering the money”.

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Explaining that the funding for each primary school student amounts to about S$12,000 each year and that students are expected to co-pay S$13 of miscellaneous fees every month, MOE said that it would be easier to reduce subsidies and financial assistance if the issue was about money.

Instead, it said: “MOE’s consideration 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. We hope parents support us in reinforcing this message.”

The ministry added: “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.”

Former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) shared his thoughts on the matter in a blog post published today (27 Nov) and said: “MOE said it is a teachable moment for the parents. The problem often is that when there are persistent unpaid fees, there are often some deep issues or dysfunctional family situations.

“I am not sure if the family would be in a good situation to talk to the child about the learning points of having to pay their dues if they had many other daily stresses or were dysfunctional.”

He then shared two stories of how local education institutions handled unpaid school fees.

In the first case, a 2nd year diploma student who comes from a low-income family met Mr Yee as he was helping out at a WP Meet-the-People session and told him that the government supported non-profit college she was attending withheld her original results slip due to outstanding fees. The distressed student feared that she would not be able to apply for 3rd year courses and that she would be kicked out of the college due to this.

Mr Yee managed to help raise the student’s plight to the school’s finance manager, who revealed that they were not aware of the student’s financial situation, and helped the student apply for bursary aside from assuring her that she can apply for her 3rd year courses since she has passed. The school also gave her time to pay the outstanding fees.

The WP politician then shared a second story that shows a different way another school handled the matter of unpaid school fees: “A principal of a faith-based kindergarten told me recently that she and her vice principal made a surprise visit to a family whose child had not paid the third term fees nor fees for the school bus. The boy had stopped attending school without a formal withdrawal. The bus had refused to pick him as well.

“The purpose of the visit was to understand what happened and to try to get the child to be back so he can finished his final few weeks of preschool with friends he has made over the past couple of years before going on to primary school.

“They reached the home of the family just as the father and son were stepping out. The father was apologetic and promised to pay up the fees. He thought that the school had come to chase for the debts.

“The school explained that they were not there for the fees as they had already asked the Board for permission to waive off the fees. They just wanted to ask the child to go back to school as they did not want him to miss out the memorable final weeks. They even asked the bus company if they could sponsor the bus trips for the final period for the family.”

Sharing that he does not fault educational institutions for needing to have rules to go by, Mr Yee asked whether there are teachable moments for schools and social welfare organisations through such cases, besides there being teachable moments for families and children:

“What are the teachable moments? It can be to tell the family and child that they need to pay for all financial obligations. It can also be to tell them that there’s grace in the society if there are truly situations that call for it.
“I hope the young preschool boy will grow up well and one day remember that the school he attended reached out because they did not want him to fall behind no matter what the family circumstances were; that if he is financially capable one day, he can pay it back to others.”

Expressing his belief that he does not think many families like to owe money especially over education and that these situations are embarrassing to the child, the WP member added:

“With persistent unpaid fees, there are often stories behind these which can only be known if we probe further. Probing needs time.
“I do not know enough of the situation with the PSLE student as to how the school may have previously reached out to the family. Teachers and principals are often stressed out because our schools run large operations and class sizes are big. There are daily fires to fight when school is operational.
“Digging into problems such as persistent unpaid fees and trying to resolve them require lots of time and patience. As much as there are teachable moments to the families, there are also engagement opportunities by the schools and by social welfare organisations to use these as trigger points to dig further and to help families work a way out of problems.”

Read his post in full HERE.

-/TISG

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