Singapore – On March 27 (Wednesday), National University of Singapore (NUS) students submitted the winning entry for an essay competition for NUS’ U@live forum titled “Education – Still a Social Leveller?”.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung was a key panelist and a proposal to help students from low-income families was presented.
Ng Qi Siang, Ng Yi Ming, and Heather Cheng Hoi Yeuk, students from Yale-NUS College, drafted the DreamFund, a policy memo that tackles the educational inequality in Singapore with actual ways to level out the disparity among students.
DreamFund as a social leveller
The DreamFund was formed under the impression that “Meritocracy is the heart of the Singapore dream and that with effort, everyone has an equal opportunity to pursue their dream,” said Ng Yi Ming as he introduced their essay.
The demographics presented during the forum showed that institutions today put great emphasis on extra-curricular activities and not merely on grades alone.
“Many children in Singapore are not as lucky as I am. Without financial stability and parental involvement, low-income parents find it much harder to make the sacrifices my parents made for me,” said Ng Yi Ming.
He talked about how his mother quit her job to focus on her children’s studies, how she used up her life’s savings on Yi Ming’s piano lessons, and how his father made ends meet as the breadwinner – sacrifices that helped him get into Yale-NUS.
Singapore ranks third in the world for annual spending on private tuition – which is almost twice the amount of the global average.
Sports, music, coding, and other extra-curricular talents are becoming relevant and a necessity when recognising “raw talent potential” beyond grades or achievements.
When affluent families have the ability and capacity to spend more on these talents compared to low-income households, socioeconomic inequality becomes an educational inequality.
Dreamfund “Enabling Life-Long Dreams for All Singaporeans” works as a credit scheme for low-income students in pre-tertiary schooling.
A DreamFund development account will be created for each child coming from the bottom quartile of national income, and monthly credits will be allocated to their accounts, implemented by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.
The credits are accepted at approved enrichment centres and bookstores for private tuition, extra-curricular enrichment programmes, and other learning support resources.
The proposed DreamFund is not dependent on parental employment, meaning it will cover children with unemployed and informally employed workers.
DreamFund hopes to equalise the opportunities and resources for children from the bottom 25 percent income bracket. It is estimated to cost S$150 million annually, assuming a S$100 monthly pay-out to children aged seven to 18 from the bottom 25 percent income earners. Compared to WorkFare which offers low-income workers S$125-300 a month and cost S$667 million in 2016, DreamFund is only a fraction of this amount.
Therefore, DreamFund is a value-for-money investment that works in balancing inequalities and creates equal opportunity for all.
In addition to Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung, the other panellists at the forum were Professor Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS College and Mr Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). /TISG
Watch the U@live forum below:
Read about Ng Qi Siang’s take on Singapore’s progress and how “Singapore cannot take its success for granted” below:
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