My first school was Dorset Primary, right across the road from where I lived. My brothers went to Victoria School located in Jalan Besar then, a couple of miles away. They took a bus to school but loved the independence that went with it.
I think good sense prevailed then: parents sent their children to schools nearest to their homes. I suspect my brothers were put in Victoria because that was the school my mother’s sons from her first marriage attended (it was close to where the boys lived, with their grandmother).
These days, proximity to the school doesn’t seem to help, with the masses of housing around. But would it help if the government were to insist that priority be given to those who live 1 km, then 2km, and 3km from the school. I was fortunate in that, at Primary 5, as Dorset School was about to be redeveloped, I was posted to Raffles Girls’ Primary. I drew on that to register my daughter at that school in 1996. We lived miles away, at Yishun, but I drove her to school every day, and spent a lot of time there as a parent volunteer as well.
Of course, schools in the high-end real estate areas such as Bukit Timah and the East Coast would be open to criticisms of being schools for rich kids; but quotas can be set aside, for parents who contribute to the school, clocking in adequate hours, fewer places for those who provide no non-financial support but who live a reasonable distance, and so on — all clear, transparent terms.
Will it work? Certainly better than the muddy current system that pleases no one but draws cries of being “unfair”. Children who are unable to find a school of choice will then be sent to the school nearest to them which still has vacancies.
The Ministry of Education has to ensure that heads of these “catch-all” schools set out to instill a culture of hard work and a happy environment for learning. That way, everyone wins and no one really loses.