TL;DR – Not everything is about the money.
Earlier this week, a Facebook post which claimed that a Primary 6 student in Singapore was denied of her Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) certificate due to some outstanding fees went viral.
According to Facebook user Gilbert Goh, the student had supposedly received only a photocopied version of the result slip, instead of the actual copy, as she was unable to pay off the outstanding fee of $156 due to “financial reason.”
Goh shared that a good Samaritan came forward to pay off the outstanding school fees on the student’s behalf, allowing her to receive the actual certificate needed to apply for a secondary school.
In the same post, Goh also shamed the Ministry of Education (MOE) for spending “tens of millions annually on scholarship and bursaries for foreigner students” and accused the ministry of neglecting Singaporean students.
In response to the allegation, MOE has come forward to clarify:
Parents of student did not pay miscellaneous fees for two years despite several reminders
Neither did they put in any application for MOE or school-based financial assistance which would have covered all the costs.
Student can still apply for secondary schools even without the original results slip
The student will have no issue with applying for secondary schools as the original certificate is not a mandatory requirement, and she can still progress like all other students.
The issue is here is not about recovering the money
MOE said that withholding of the original PSLE results slip due to school fee arrears has been a longstanding practice in MOE.
This is especially so since the cost of education is almost entirely publicly funded, and therefore every parent should still play their part in paying the fee, however small it is, and it is not right to ignore that obligation.
For students from lower-income families, they can always apply for financial assistance that covers their miscellaneous fees, uniforms, textbooks, transport, and school meals, MOE reiterated.
So what if this is a longstanding practice? Are there good reasons to do so?
This is not a school practice, but an MOE policy, and we are with MOE on this one. There are good reasons for this policy to exist.
MOE mentioned “teachable moment”, so what is this “teachable moment” they’re talking about? I think it’s largely about responsibility on the part of the parents.
Our school fees are heavily subsidised – to the tune of $12,000 per primary school student per year. The amount that the parents are asked to pay can be perceived as the state asking for the parents to shoulder a very small, but important, commitment to their own children’s education.
Did you know that there are no school fees for primary school education? Students only co-pay $13 in miscellaneous fees every month.
There are also various help schemes in place to help needy students, from the Edusave Contribution scheme to bursary awards to free textbooks to even subsidies for school meals. The help and support are all there.
Again, I repeat, the issue here is about the parents taking up responsibility, and it’s about their commitment to their children’s education and future.
That said, MOE has also made clear that their stance is always this: that financial circumstances should not be allowed to become an impediment to a student’s progress. So in cases where parents really cannot pay, there are multiple avenues to help. In this particular case, it remains unanswered as to why the parents did not apply for help.
I don’t think this practice is necessarily a bad one since I do see the “why”.
However, all schools should handle such matters with more tact and dexterity so that the students do not get impacted negatively for circumstances that are outside of their control.
In cases where any one student owes fees over a protracted period of time, schools should proactively reach out and see if the family is in any financial distress and help them get help.