A friend's daughter was in a neighborhood school for a week, before being transferred to a "brand name" school. On querying one teacher of the neighborhood school about the textbooks and uniforms already purchased, he was told needy students would welcome the items. That particular school had 140 students who had yet to pay the school fees and similar numbers who could not afford a new school uniform.
The one-off $155 million top-up to the Edusave scheme was flaunted as a measure to insulate children from the impact of inflation, so goes the spin of Dr Ng Eng Hen. So will kids finally have pocket money for recess, cash to buy new books or replace the set of school uniform which has been washed once too often? None of the forementioned.
Firstly, only $54.8 million goes to the kids, and not into their eager hands, but into their Edusave accounts. The $330 (primary) and $370 (secondary) handouts can only be used for "school enrichment" programmes like local and overseas learning trips. Needless to say, 300 bucks won't fly you to Europe to sing along with the Vienna Boys' Choir or Shanghai to check out the Maglev train. Still, there are lots of travel agents out there sweet talking principals into such trips, with parents ending up having to top up the difference. For the poorer kids, the trip destinations will likely be Little India or Chinatown. The only people enriched here are the scheming travel agents targeting the school market.
The larger slice of the top-up pie, $100 million, is meant to be spent on IT equipment, so that schools "can use the gadgets to improve the education". Okay, now we know where he's getting the money for "keyboarding" - the proposed use of Pinyin on personal computers for Mandarin lessons.
One wonders if the minister is aware of the vacuity of his words: "In Singapore, nobody who has the ability, whether it's ITE, polytechnic or university, will be denied their education because their family cannot afford it. That is a guarantee." How can a starving child have the energy to stay awake in class, or struggle through tons of homework on a empty stomach? No wonder the rich kids, with maids in tow to carry the schoolbags, and chauffeured to school in limousines, walk off with all the scholarships. Did you read about how Lee Kuan Yew lamented his grandson rejecting a scholarship because papa had the money for his overseas education?
The altruism Education Minister Ng tries to impress on the public is torpedoed by his own slip up, ""You trust us for another 10 years, we will make the difference for you." With elections likely to be called in the 2nd quarter (according to George Yeo), couldn't he at least be more subtle about it?