SINGAPORE: Some parents have said Primary One registration is a harrowing experience, while others offer to be volunteers at primary schools years in advance.
That has eased somewhat, after the Ministry of Education (MOE) tweaked the process for Primary One registration, giving Singaporeans absolute priority over permanent residents.
It is a move that observers say reflects feedback from the 2011 general election.
Lim Biow Chuan, Government Parliamentary Committee chair for education said: "That’s a message that got through from the last elections. I think some of the feedback is that there’s no difference between a Singaporean and PR, and also the foreigners. So I think MOE has taken this approach that there should be a greater distinction so that the privilege of being a Singaporean is more distinct."
Also in 2012, for the first time, MOE decided not to name the top student of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), fuelling much public debate.
But the ministry has held fast to its message —— that there is more to education than just grades.
In pursuit of its vision of "Every School is a Good School", the ministry has abolished secondary school banding —— a system that ranks schools based on academic results at the ’O’ Level examinations.
"The fact is there is no single yardstick to measure how ’good’ our schools are," said education minister Heng Swee Keat.
But with only the top 10 per cent of each cohort qualifying for the Integrated Programme (IP), many have come to regard schools offering the IP track as "top schools" in Singapore.
"The ’Every School is a Good School’ concept does not mean that you take away this concept of distinguishing between stronger students and weaker students in terms of academic performance. But ’Every School is a Good School’ concept should be that every school is equipped to do well and perform for the students," explained Mr Lim.
"There is no material distinction in the ability of the staff to be able to help the students to excel in their work. It doesn’t mean that all schools will be equal because I don’t think you can equalise them completely. But what every parent and every student should be assured of is that whatever school they go to, they will not be penalised or they will not be disadvantaged in that they have less resources or they have got all the not—so—good teachers being posted there."
To further drive home the point, MOE has committed S$55 million over the next five years to help schools develop niche areas in the arts or sports.
More opportunities for tertiary education have also been created.
With growing demand for university places, the government has increased full—time places for applied degrees at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University.
This brings the total number of national universities to six, and it will also allow four in 10 students to get a university education by 2020. While some cautioned against vocationalising university education, many are of the opinion that having applied degrees would ensure industrial relevance.
2012 has also seen more educators hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons, with several charged for personal indiscretion.
Mr Lim said: "This year has not been a terribly good year for some of the cases that we’re seeing. There has been some misbehaviour among teachers and I think it bears repeating to teachers that they hold a heavy responsibility of nurturing our students."
While the court cases remain a minority, Mr Lim expects the newly—developed code of conduct for educators to provide guidelines on appropriate interaction in school and online.
Mr Lim said: "Currently, many teachers feel: ’I don’t have to keep my distance. I can be not just a teacher to my students, but also a friend — a friend that the students can come to if they’re in trouble’.
"I think the intent is good but sometimes, teachers who become friends to the students may forget that their role is still to be role models, as teachers do, their students. And when that friendship becomes too cosy, complications may arise."
In 2013, MOE is also expected to release a curriculum framework for Mother Tongue for preschools, which observers say could ensure a smoother transition into primary school.
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