Social and family development Minister admits that not all schools are equal

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Commenting on his own Facebook message encouraging parents to never let children feel less or more loved because of their results, Minister for Social and Family Development, Tan Chuan-Jin, has admitted that not all schools are equal.

Commenting further in his own post, Mr Tan said: “For those of you who feel that PSLE determines our children’s happiness, I understand your concerns. Many parents have different views on exams and assessment etc. May I suggest that we focus more on our own parenting efforts? I think we are on really shaky grounds if PSLE is the main determinant of our children having a happy childhood.”

Facebook user Anna Chong responded to this comment and said: “It is because secondary schools accept students thru their T score therefore parents die die must make sure their kids score high in order to qualify.”

Mr Tan responded to Anna and suggested that parents need not send their kids to first-tier schools.

“Anna Chong The question is why die die must get into particular schools? Next tier not possible? Or where strengths lie in different areas? (Hence sports and arts)”

Anna replied the Minister and said that parents only want what’s best for their kids and that the excessive competition for good schools start at certain primary schools, and can even be witnessed by the long waiting list at popular kindergartens.

Former Education Minister Heng Swee Keat rolled out his grand vision of making every school a good school soon after the watershed 2011 General Election.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out in his 2013 National Day Rally Speech in August of that year that there are two different perspectives on schools in Singapore. One is a perspective from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the other from parents and students.

“One is the MOE perspective – Every School Is A Good School. Whichever school you go to, whichever class or principal you have, you will get a good education. And we give every school the teachers, the resources, the backing. We help many of our schools develop niches of excellence. We make sure that the whole system is of a high standard. Every school is a good school.

But parents and students have a different perspective. They accept the MOE argument but they still have strong preferences for certain schools. And even within the same housing estate, two separate schools, few hundred metres apart, parents will go to great lengths to bring their children into School A instead of School B. I see it every year when it comes to school admission time after the PSLE exams, when people come and try very, very hard.

Having got a place in a good school, they want a place in another school which in their view will be better for their kid. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they do not. But the belief is very deep. And nationally that happens too, because secondary schools admit students from across the country and based on their academic results.

So, the results of parents looking for what they think are the best schools and consulting websites like kiasuparents.com — I am past that point, but I have not reached kiasugrandparents.com yet — but the result of that is certain top secondary schools get a very high concentration of the very good students or at least the students with very good results. So in these top secondary schools, standards are very high, competition to get in is very intense and everybody feels enormous pressure.”

Soon after Mr Lee spoke of the differing perspectives held by the government and by parents and students, the vice-principal (VP) of a neighbourhood school asked, “how many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home?”

Responding to speakers and teachers’ discussions of making every school a good one at the inaugural AsiaEducationExpo (AEX) in November 2013, Ms Pushparani Nadarajah, the VP of Jurong West Secondary said: “(Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it),”