Workers’ Party (WP) member Yee Jenn Jong has revealed another case, in which a diploma student from a low income family was told that she would not get her official results if she does not pay outstanding college fees, in the wake of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) response as to why a student’s original PSLE results slip was withheld due to unpaid school fees.
On Monday (25 Nov), socio-political activist Gilbert Goh said that a 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. In a Facebook post, Mr Goh said that the student would need the PSLE “certificate” to apply for secondary school admission.
Asserting that some students “fall through the cracks” despite MOE doing its “level best to assist all needy students,” Mr Goh said that withholding the original PSLE results slips rubs “salt into the wound of poverty” and added that the “shame” in getting a photocopy of the results slip “weighed heavily on the shoulders of those who are poor and needy.”
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:
“In the case highlighted by the FB (Facebook) posts, the parents did not pay miscellaneous fees for two years despite several reminders, and did not put in any application for MOE or school-based financial assistance which would have covered all the costs.”
“The child will still receive a copy of the results, just not the original results slip, and she can still apply for secondary schools and will progress like all students.”
Asserting that the issue was “not about recovering the money,” MOE explained 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 explained:
“Further, students from lower-income families can apply for financial assistance that covers their miscellaneous fees, uniforms, textbooks, transport and school meals. If it is about money then the easier solution would be to reduce subsidies and financial assistance.
“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 that its priority is to “ensure that students grow and can fulfil their potential” and that it believes financial circumstances should not be allowed to “become an impediment” to a student’s progress.
WP politician Yee Jenn Jong has since revealed that he was involved in helping resolve a similar case some years back.
The former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) was helping out at a Meet-the-People’s session (MPS) at Aljunied GRC when he was approached by a distressed student who feared that she would not be able to apply for third year courses since her school withheld the original results slip due to outstanding fees.
In a blog post published today (27 Nov), Mr Yee recounted that it was about 9.30pm one evening and that he was about to leave the MPS since there were no other cases needing a case writer when a young lady rushed to register. Mr Yee took her case and listened as the student shared her plight.
The young lady – who was enrolled in a government supported non-profit college – had difficulty keeping up with school fee payments because of her family’s financial situation. The student’s uneducated mother who has a part-time job was the only one who was supporting the family and the student. The student who is the eldest child in the family also holds a part time job but only earned enough to manage her own living expenses.
The low-income family was constantly in debt, according to Mr Yee, and frequently borrowed from relatives. The student’s aunt had paid for her previous year’s college fees but was not able to give her another loan so soon.
Sobbing as she told Mr Yee her story, the student said that she was told by the college that she would not get her official results unless she paid up and that she needed the results to register for her courses for the third and final year.
Desperate for help since the date to register for her third year course was close, the young woman told Mr Yee that she believed she would be kicked out of college because of her unpaid fees and that she did not even know what her second year results were because the school’s policy was that they could not release the results without payment of fees.
Mr Yee happened to have a friend who worked in the school and contacted him for help. Mr Yee and the student were able to meet the school’s finance manager, who provided timely assistance and assured the student that she would not be kicked out due to her financial circumstances. Mr Yee recounted:
“The school did not know of her financial situation. The finance manager was very kind and revealed that she had passed and may register for the third year courses and asked her to apply for a bursary. The school also gave her time to pay up for the previous fees, which she eventually borrowed from her relatives. She got a bursary for her final year of studies.”
Mr Yee also hired the student on a part-time basis to work in his art company, that year. The student eventually graduated and landed a job at a multi-national company as a web designer.
Calling the student’s experience a “happy story that could have turned out badly,” Mr Yee revealed that the student did not try to apply for financial aid before the MPS as she was not aware of the resources that were available to her:
“I asked why she did not try to apply for any financial assistance before then. She said she was not aware (even though the school had schemes and were indeed kind and fast to act when her situation surfaced).
“It is hard to blame her as she was not yet an adult then and the family already had so much problems. Relatives were afraid of them requesting for more financial assistance. She only came to the MPS because she shared her problems at a church meeting and her friend suggested going to meet her MP, which she promptly rushed to because the MPS happened to be that evening.”
Sharing that he does not fault educational institutions for needing to have rules to go by, Mr Yee 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.”
Noting that he is not knowledgeable about the PSLE student’s exact situation and why her family did not apply for financial assistance, Mr Yee added: “I know schools have lots of ways to help low income family pay for fees and even get pocket money allowances because I have been involved in helping to raise such funds for schools.
“The young lady I had helped could have raised her problems to the school much earlier and she would likely have gotten a bursary from day 1 but she said she was not aware of support schemes and did not know that she would have qualified.”
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