Two questions on social inequality and mobility that came up during a Singapore Management University (SMU) forum on Tuesday night are worth highlighting.
Third-year student Ms Mathew said the Primary 1 registration system creates an uneven playing field for children as places are given first to those who live near the schools and whose parents are their alumni. She asked if the Education Ministry had plans to tackle this issue.
SMU alumnus Ong said he observed at a neighbourhood school that several students were too poor to buy red-and-white outfits to celebrate National Day, and asked if the Government had a clear policy on addressing the issue of social inequality.
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, as expected, did not provide pertinent answers, but laid on the blame with a broad brush on Singaporean parents. He said: "Honestly, if parents' mindset is that there is only one good school in this place, whatever system of allocation, whether by proximity, by pure balloting, by whether you volunteer and all, that will not have any good outcome." Heng had his party issued blinkers on, ignoring the elitist elements in the school system.
He may not admit it in public, but not all schools are created equal. Even teachers are assigned according to their personal assessment by superiors - the less favoured being doomed to the neighborhood establishments where gangs proliferate and girls hawk their services for extra pocket money. A principal once told us not all the students at her school are wearing the new uniform just introduced because many could not afford the expense, and at least 800 were in arrears with the school fees. Needless to say, there were no posh cars in sight waiting to pick up their wards. A neighborhood school is not a place where you see maids carrying the kid's school bag.
Maybe we should just do away with the brand names, and just number them as Primary School 32, Secondary School 45 or Junior College 88. And buy lots of those American yellow buses to transport the students to schools all over the island, regardless of race, language or postal district codes.