Does the Singapore education system work?

I saw a forum letter a few days ago. It was sent to The Straits Times and it questioned the Singapore’s education system, and the main claim is that the Singapore education system works because of tuition. I beg to differ. The entire letter is reproduced here:

S’pore education system works – with tuition
THE Minister of State for Defence, Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee, praised the Singapore education system in his article, ‘Singapore’s education system works’ (ST, Nov 24). There are two issues which need clarification.

Prof Koo commented that ‘without the GEP, many outstanding students from working-class families in neighbourhood schools would not have been able to move to the good schools’. Is he implying that neighbourhood schools which do not offer the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) are not good schools? That all GEP schools are good schools?

The annual Primary 1 registration is already stressful for both parents and schools. Some parents, eager to put their children in ‘good’ schools, clocked up numerous hours in volunteer work, only to find that they did not have the luck of the draw. Then there are parents whose children had already secured places in such schools. Fearing that their little ones might not be able to cope with the demands of the school, or to give their kids a leg up, they enrolled them in enrichment programmes and, thence on, it is tuition all the way till the PSLE.

Implying that neighbourhood schools are inferior to GEP schools is being very unfair to non-GEP schools and their teachers. Moreover, this puts additional pressure on some parents to get their children into GEP schools.

Prof Koo concluded his article by pronouncing that the Singapore education system is one that works. I do not refute this, but there is a missing addendum – with tuition.

It is a well-known fact that a large proportion of our students, from pre-primary all the way to pre-university, have tuition.

Some children are so reliant on tuition that even though they score above-average grades, they would insist on continuing with tuition the following year, for ‘security’ reasons.

Students in schools with the integrated programme (IP) are supposedly the cream of the crop, yet there are many who have tuition. A few centres have been called ‘IP tuition centres’ because of their large number of IP students.

When a child says that he does not have tuition, but his parents coach him using assessment books, that is tuition in a sense.

So, Singapore’s education system does work – with tuition.

Ng Kim Yong (Mrs)

Firstly, let me say that I agree with Mrs Ng’s viewpoint on the GEP issue. By saying that GEP is there to bring outstanding students to good schools, we are now widening the gap and distinction of good and neighbourhood schools. We are making it seem like we should aim for a good school.

Has anyone realized that we are talking about primary school students here? At a young age, should they be subjected to such distinction and be marked from their stay at a school? Since the majority of the schools here are public owned (by the government), shouldn’t there be steps to ensure the uniformity of standards of the schools, such that every student has a chance to excel if he or she has the potential? Instead of subjecting students to fall simply because they enrolled at a lousy school that is 1km within the radius of their home.

This good school bad school thing is why we have people renting apartment in name just to be in 1km radius of the school. If we can ensure that all schools have a decent education system with good teachers, then everyone can have a fair start.

Our education system claims to be based on meritocracy. However, in such a circumstance, where pupils are subjected to an unfair advantage, or disadvantage, is it then meritocracy? Its just whoever has the most money or whichever parent has the most amount of time to volunteer. If we truly wanted to have a meritocratic environment, everyone should have access to the same resources that allow them to be graded fairly.

The Singapore education system has changed over the past few years. We now have a through train program where pupils can skip the O levels. We have an NUS high school for the same reason. It does seem a little unfair for such “segregation”. However it seems to be working well and there has been no problems, yet.

Does the Singapore education system work? Mrs Ng claims that it does, but with tuition. I do not deny that the situation portrayed in the letter is true. Certain students are overly reliant on tuition to ensure good grades, and they continue to have tuition as a safeguard to have better grades. In fact, the tuition industry is a pretty “rich” industry. Rich in the number of tutors, in the number of students and in the monetary terms.

However, I would like to say that the education system also works if one doesn’t have tuition. The system can work if you are a dedicated student who revises on your own. You are not denied an education. There are chances to excel.

Tuition comes into the picture because of over kiasu parents who want their kids to do well with external help. Our education system should just give everyone a fair chance at getting an education. Our education system, harsh as it is, should not need to ensure that every single student gets an A – an impossible task. Should individual failure, which leads to getting tuition, show that the education system sucks?

If someone sucks at something, but refuses to go and improve, and have to have tuition, is it the education system’s fault? It is the education system’s fault that someone is lazy and likes to play pokemon cards rather than study the theory of thermodynamics?

Our education system is no doubt, tough. It has a high workload. People are highly stressed when they strive to be the top. Tuition should not be used as a gauge. People have lived lives well without tuition. I have done that. I’m now in university, and I had only 3 months of English tuition. In fact, even if I didn’t have the tuition, I think I would still have my decent share of gaining an education. I have done fairly well without tuition. I just don’t need to get tuition to be the best, or the cream of the crop.

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