In a new twist to his graduate mother policy, Lee Kuan Yew is blaming parents for the difference between "brand-name" schools and neighbourhood schools. He observed that 72 per cent of Raffles Girls' School pupils have fathers who are university graduates while it was 9 per cent at Bukit Merah Secondary. The disparity is similar across the schools in terms of educational profiles of mothers. He urged non-graduate parents to bring their children to the library from an early stage, "They must get their children accustomed to ... acquiring knowledge by themselves and not be spoon-fed by teachers."
We know how "brand-name" schools end up with the graduate parents. 18 year old Wong Zheng Kai explained it clearly and patiently to the slow learner: "Hwa Chong's fees would be too taxing on my parents." While the monthly fee at Dunman High is $37, it is $300 at Hwa Chong. Grossly out of touch, Lee was still thinking meritocracy alone determines placement in secondary schools when he posed his question to her earlier, "What made you choose Dunman High? Which schools did you try to get in but couldn't? Let's not be shy."
Let's not be shy. There are the poor who need a leg up to level the playing field (Recall the education of rookie MP Michael Palmer: "Before I joined the grassroots organisation, I never knew there were poor people in developed countries"). Northbrooks Secondary principal Janet Oh told MediaCorp it was not easy to "just encourage parents to support their child's learning" when their physical needs are not met. Northbrooks encourages students to stay back for two periods after school to build up the habit of doing homework, but "Many of them don't stay back after school because they have no money for lunch." This school provides money for lunch and recess. Thank you, principal Oh.
About the spoon-feeding by teachers: A Norwegian lady friend doing her doctorate here sent her two daughters to a neighborhood school because she didn't want them to be pampered by the likes of the American School (who bent the rules for Lee's autistic grandson). Her personal observation after 2 years was that the teachers here don't cover all the syllabus material in class, and the kids are expected to have tutors to make up the shortfall. Needless to say, the poor can hardly cough up the extortion money charged by tutors these days. Someone who emigrated to Canada also noted their kids studying there have no homework - the teaching and learning are completed during classroom hours.
Some schools require a PSLE score of at least 265 before doling out the financial assistance. Kids who don't do well academically because their parents can't afford the "books and all the paraphernalia that makes for a learning child" mentioned by Lee, end up spiralling deeper into the poverty trap. And into the tentacles of the local street gangs. At least some of those guys are more genuine in offering a helping hand than the MOE officials.