TL;DR – Every school can be a good school, REALLY!
There’s a recent study that examined the class stratification in schools. It found that there was a disproportionate number of children from more affluent backgrounds in schools that offer the integrated program (IP) and the Gifted Education Program (GEP). Nearly 41% of students in schools with IP and GEP are from families with a monthly household income of $10,000 or more. About 31% of students in those schools live in private homes.
Based on those statistics, Dr Cheung Hoi Shan, one of the researchers involved in the study, said: “(I)n elite schools you tend to have families represented by higher socio-economic status (SES)”
Like duh. Use belly button think also can come up with that conclusion lah. Kids from well-to-do families have better opportunities. That is a fact. There is therefore a higher chance that they do better in school. A no-brainer. Not surprising, right? We are sure that MOE is well aware of these statistics.
The more important question to ask is what is being done to help children from not so well-off families be less disadvantaged. In that area, Singapore has done quite a fair bit in the last decade.
In 2006, then-Education Minister Tharman announced that MOE would set up Northlight School. It was a school for students who have failed PSLE. The school was set up “to prepare as many of its students as possible for further education at the ITE or apprenticeship with industry.”
The school was set up very differently from other schools. The class sizes are smaller. For students who need more help in basic literacy and numeracy, the school provides intensive intervention. It is therefore given more resources per student than what other schools get. A LOT MORE resources.
In 2009, another school, Assumption Pathway School, also adopted a similar model. It also only takes in students who have failed PSLE. Like Northlight School, Assumption Pathway School also gets more resources per student than what other schools get.
In 2010, PM Lee announced at his annual National Day Rally Speech that MOE will set up two specialised schools for Normal Technical students. The first of these schools, Crest Secondary School, started classes in 2013. The second, Spectra Secondary School, started classes in 2014. Like Northlight School and Assumption Pathway School, these two specialised schools for Normal Technical students get more resources per student than other schools.
Most students in these four schools are from lower SES. The fact that the government is willing to pump in more resources per student to these schools shows that the government has been progressively doing more to help children from lower SES have more opportunities to gain social mobility.
This year, the government went even further. It has decided that it needs to go all the way upstream to help children from disadvantaged families while they were still young. The government thus announced that it will pilot the KidStart scheme. It is an initiative to give children from disadvantaged families up to the age of six a leg-up. $20million has been set aside to help 1,000 children.
So. Yes. The system is not perfect. The “elite” schools do have disproportionately more students with affluent backgrounds. But it would be unfair, not to mention unrealistic, to expect kids who are the most disadvantaged to move to the top SES within one generation. Yes there are those who can do that (think Minister Chan Chun Sing). Most people, however, need to move one step at a time.
Therefore what’s most important is that there are steps actively taken by the government to help the children with most disadvantaged backgrounds in our society have a decent chance of social mobility. And that doesn’t mean getting more kids into the “elite” schools. Because being in “elite” schools may not actually be good for kids who aren’t really academically inclined. Instead, a school that focusses on more hands-on learning, a school that focuses on developing vocational skills may actually be better for some students.
It is therefore possible that all schools in Singapore are good schools.
Because each of the schools can be good in their own ways. Each of the schools can be good for the type of students that they were set up to cater for. After all, the purpose of education shouldn’t be just to enable a child to have the means to earn tons of money, right? Rather, it ought to be to allow a child to be better able to live a more meaningful and fulfilling. Isn’t it?
So rather than be so hung up about the proportion of what sort of students are in “elite” schools, perhaps we ought to focus on delivering true quality education that is best suited to each and every student. Perhaps Donovan Livingston, this year’s valedictorian at Harvard Graduate School of Education, explains what education ought to do best:
“I teach in hopes of turning content, into rocket ships —
Tribulations into telescopes,
So a child can see their potential from right where they stand.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, the sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
(Featured image via Yahoo News)