Tuesday 27 March 2012

Singaporeans first in new P1 registration rule from 2012 onwards

Citizens will get priority over permanent residents no matter where they live
By Cai Haoxiang, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2012

SINGAPOREAN children will now have a further edge over permanent residents (PRs) during Primary 1 school registration.

From this year, available places in registration phases where balloting is required will be given to Singaporeans first. The remaining places in the phase will then be open to PRs.

This means that Singaporeans in each phase, regardless of where they live, will automatically have priority ahead of PRs who might be living nearer the school.

If there are more Singaporeans than places available, those Singaporeans living nearer to the school will still get priority, with the rest balloting for the remaining slots. For example, if a school has 50 vacancies in a specific phase and 56 Singaporean and five PR children apply, none of the latter will get a place, even if they live within 1km of the school.

As for the Singaporean children, those who live within 1km of the school will get first bite, followed by those living between 1km and 2km, and finally, those outside 2km.

Balloting will be used to decide who gets a slot for distance categories when there are more applicants than places remaining.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) issued a statement on the change yesterday, following a visit by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat to the Ayer Rajah ward.

Welcoming the move, Member of Parliament and Government Parliamentary Committee for Education chairman Lim Biow Chuan said it sends a clear signal that Singaporeans are valued.

'For some branded schools, balloting takes place for just one or two places, so if you can give Singaporeans priority, it'll go a long way,' he said.

Mr Lim admitted that 'PRs won't be happy' but they 'cannot expect the same degree of priority as citizens'.

The changes will take place from the Primary 1 registration exercise this July.

It replaces a previous policy change in 2010, where Singaporeans get two ballot slips compared to one for PRs, when they have to ballot for a Primary 1 spot.

The Straits Times reported last month that the ministry was reviewing the Primary 1 registration exercise.

Parents have complained about intense competition for limited places, especially at brand-name or popular neighbourhood schools.

Last year, close to half of Singapore's 173 primary schools had to hold ballots and there were children who could not get into schools near their homes.

There are currently several phases in the registration process.

In the first phase, siblings of Singaporeans and PRs already in a school are automatically given places. There is no change to this phase.

The next few phases allow Singaporean and PR children of alumni and staff, and those with parents who are volunteers, grassroots leaders or with church or clan connections to register, followed by those who are not yet registered. These phases are where the latest changes will take effect.

The final phase is for children of foreigners.

Principals said the move should reassure Singaporean parents. Some principals from the more popular schools said that PRs might not be able to get in after the change.

White Sands Primary principal Daphne Leong said that in recent years, balloting has taken place even for those living within 1km of her school.

'I don't think I will have enough places to accommodate all the applicants within 1km and outside 1km, and still have places for PRs,' she said.

But Mr Tan Chun Ming, principal of Nan Chiau Primary, felt that PRs still stand a chance at every stage of the registration process.

'Even with the extra ballot given to Singaporeans from 2010, we still had PRs coming in,' he noted.

Mr Tan and other principals also said PRs need not worry as there are many other schools with many vacancies.

Singaporean parents cheer new rules for P1 registration
But some PRs dismayed by 'absolute priority' being given to citizens
By Cai Haoxiang & Elizabeth Soh, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2012

TWO mothers in Marine Parade both want to get their children into Tao Nan School, a brand-name school in the area that sees intense competition for its coveted Primary 1 spots every year.

But they could not have had more diverse reactions to the announcement by the Education Ministry yesterday that Singaporeans will get 'absolute priority' over permanent residents (PRs), when there are more applicants than vacancies in specific registration phases.

'The new announcement really takes a lot of stress off my mind,' said Singaporean housewife Phyllis Lee, 37, who has been worrying about the competition her five-year-old daughter Leah will face when she applies to the school next year.

Ms Lee and her family live about 1.5km away from the school, and both she and her husband are not Tao Nan alumni. Leah has an older brother in St Stephen's School.

The couple bought their first home, a three-room flat in Marine Parade, hoping to increase their children's chances of getting into schools there.

For another Marine Parade family, however, the change is bad news.

Taiwanese Sandy Shih, 32, who is a PR here, said she was disappointed with the change, especially as she moved from a condominium in Bukit Timah to one in Siglap so that her son Henry, now four, could enrol into Tao Nan.

Her home now is a five-minute walk from the school.

'I understand that the Government wants to put the interests of Singaporeans first,' said the businesswoman in Mandarin. 'There is nothing much I can do; maybe do more volunteer work or try to enrol my son at St Stephen's, which is also nearby.'

Singaporean parents were naturally happier than PRs about the latest move by the ministry, which will result in Singaporeans standing a much better chance than PRs in getting into a primary school of their choice.

Principals said balloting usually takes place only in the later phases of the registration exercise, when there are more applicants than spaces.

A PR determined to get his children into a popular school has a shot at this by moving nearer to the school and being a grassroots leader, parent volunteer, or having church or clan connections.

More than half the schools in last July's Primary 1 registration required balloting. Even schools with lower profiles such as Northland Primary in Yishun and Admiralty Primary in Woodlands were oversubscribed by up to two times.

MPs and political observers saw the policy change as part of a continuing process in recent years to sharpen the distinctions between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans.

The ever-swelling inflow of foreigners and PRs caused much angst among Singaporeans, who blamed them for depressing their pay, taking away their jobs and school and university places, raising property prices and a variety of social ills.

In 2009, then-Education Minister Ng Eng Hen announced that Singaporeans would get an extra ballot during Primary 1 school registration from 2010. School fees were also raised for PRs and foreigners from this year. PRs are now paying three times more for their children's education compared to citizens.

Nominated MP Eugene Tan said the changes boil down to emphasising to Singaporeans that citizenship has its privileges, while convincing PRs to apply for citizenship.

'Education is seen as a crucial good to the average Singaporean and competition for popular schools is keen. These changes will help reduce angst and anxiety,' he said.

Member of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said the committee had discussed with the ministry ways to tweak the Primary 1 registration process before. But deciding on which priority scheme had to go proved extremely difficult.

One suggestion was to give more priority to children living nearby, but that 'favours the rich who can afford to buy or rent', he said. Alumni would also be up in arms if the phase that allows their children to get in was scrapped.

'I don't think you can solve all the issues. Popular schools will still have more Singaporeans who want to go there than places,' said Mr Lim. 'It's really not easy to decide which phase to cut. Something's got to give.'

PRs interviewed seemed resigned to the fact that they will face more difficulties in securing places in schools near their homes.

Bishan resident and IT engineer Rakesh Menon, 42, who is from India and has a five-year-old daughter, said: 'We have no car. What if she can only get into a school in Jurong? Just because we are PRs doesn't mean we are not serious about staying here - we do want to stay and live here in the long term.'

But training and development director Shweta Garg, a 32-year-old Indian national who moved to Marine Parade to give her six-year-old son a chance to get into schools there, said: 'A rule is a rule. There are always international schools. But I believe if he has the ability, he can study at a neighbourhood school and do well.'

System's various phases
THE current Primary 1 registration system comprises various phases:

Phase 1: For a child with a sibling currently in the school. All children registered under this phase will get places.

Phase 2A(1): For a child whose parent is a former student of the school and has joined the alumni association, or is a member of the school's advisory or management committee.

Phase 2A(2): For a child whose parent or sibling studied in the school, or whose parent is working there.

Phase 2B: For a child whose parent is a volunteer and has put in at least 40 hours of voluntary service with the school, or who is a member of a church or clan association directly connected with it. This phase also applies to a child whose parent is an active community leader.

Phase 2C and Phase 2C (Supplementary): For a child not registered under the previous phases.

Phase 3: For a child who is neither a Singaporean nor a permanent resident.

If there are excess applications during each phase, admission is based on how close the child lives to the school. Those living within a 1km radius are given priority, followed by those within 2km, then those outside the 2km radius.

A policy change in 2010 meant that if there is balloting in any of the phases, Singaporeans will get two ballot slips while permanent residents get one. This will no longer be applicable from this year, as Singaporean children will now have priority over permanent resident children.

Seven new primary schools next year
By Cai Haoxiang, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2012

SEVEN new primary schools will open for registration this year for Primary 1 pupils starting school in January next year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced yesterday.

All seven are located in new towns, with three in the fast-growing town of Sengkang. They are Palm View Primary, Sengkang Green Primary and Springdale Primary.

Two schools are in Punggol - Punggol View Primary and Punggol Green Primary. The other two are Westwood Primary in Jurong West and Riverside Primary in Woodlands.

Each school will offer up to eight classes or 240 Primary 1 places. They will have newly designed classrooms, dance and performing arts studios and an outdoor jogging path.

MOE also announced yesterday a change to the Primary 1 registration exercise, to give Singaporean children absolute priority over permanent residents in all phases where balloting is required.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was on a community visit to Ayer Rajah ward in West Coast GRC, declined to comment on the change but said more schools will hold open houses and talks before the registration exercise this July.

He encouraged parents to attend these sessions to see how schools have changed over the years and check out the various programmes they offer to develop children beyond their academic work.

'That way, they are in a better position to choose the right school for their children and work closely with the schools to enhance their learning,' he said.

During a dialogue with about 200 grassroots leaders and residents at Ayer Rajah Community Centre, Mr Heng fielded questions on a range of education issues, including creativity, entrepreneurship and time taken up by co-curricular activities.

Mr Heng disputed a recent ranking of cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) which rated Singapore poorly for nurturing an entrepreneurial and risk- taking mindset.

He said that the EIU looked at the number of people who start new businesses but entrepreneurship should be defined more broadly. It should encompass a 'desire to do something better, to look for, seize, and create opportunities to create a better life all round'.

Mr Heng said the education system is trying to foster more critical and inventive thinking but that parents also need to play their part, in supporting their children when they want to do something unexpected. On co-curricular activities, he said they are an important way to impart life skills to students.

Mr Heng also launched a free wireless service at Teban Gardens food centre. It aims to benefit needy students who do not have Internet access at home.

Internet charges of $100 monthly will be borne by the area's merchants' association. Up to 40 people can connect to the service at any one time.

Said its chairman Mr Jimmy Ong: 'At night, the place is quiet and well-lit, so needy children who don't have Internet access at home can do their homework here rather than at the void deck.'

PRs make up about 10% of P1 cohort
Registration changes will mean more slots for Singaporeans
By Leonard Lim & Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2012

PERMANENT residents make up about 10 per cent of each primary school's cohort, and many of their places in popular schools could now go to Singaporeans after a policy change in the Primary 1 registration process.

So, for popular primary schools which have a Primary 1 cohort of about 300, this means that up to 30 more slots could go to Singaporeans.

'We must meet Singaporeans' needs, and the policy puts Singaporeans' needs first. All things being equal, we can expect to see more Singaporeans coming in,' said Mr Tan Chun Ming, principal of Nan Chiau Primary.

Nan Chiau, along with the likes of South View, Nan Hua, Rosyth and Northland, was among the few schools that were more than 21/2 times oversubscribed in Phase 2C last year.

This is the most competitive round in the Primary 1 registration exercise, open to all applicants who have no affiliations with the school.

The Ministry of Education's (MOE) announcement on Sunday to give Singaporeans absolute priority in the Primary 1 balloting process comes at a time when competition for places is rising.

Of a total of 179 primary schools, 87 held balloting exercises last year, among the highest figure in recent times. In previous years, the number hovered around 80.

Other school leaders also welcomed the policy change, though many declined to provide the breakdown of Singaporean and PR applicants in past years.

In a sign of how stiff competition has become, some perennial favourites among parents are also seeing more applicants balloting for fewer spots.

According to statistics on the school website, applicants to Rosyth School, for instance, have had lower success rates over the years during Phase 2C.

Only about a quarter of applicants who lived within 1km of the school in Serangoon snagged spots under Phase 2C last July, compared to about a third in 2010 and nearly 50 per cent the year before.

When asked about the rising competition, an MOE spokesman said the sustainable solution 'lies in ensuring that every school is a good school, and parents perceive them as such'.

This tagline has also been touted by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in recent months.

The spokesman added that over the years, schools have mounted a range of programmes to meet the diverse needs of students.

Schools will hold open houses and talks before the Primary 1 registration exercise, she said, so that parents are better informed of the range of schools that can meet their children's needs.

The annual Primary 1 registration exercise has been hotly debated for years, with parents calling for changes such as removing the priority for any group and opening all places in a school to balloting.

Under the current scheme, siblings of Singaporeans and PRs already in a school are automatically given places in the first of six phases. There is no change to this phase following Sunday's announcement.

The next few rounds allow Singaporean and PR children of alumni and staff, and those with parents who are volunteers, grassroots leaders or with church or clan connections, to register, followed by those who are not yet registered.

These phases are where the changes take effect. Currently, if any phase is oversubscribed, balloting is done and priority is given to those who live nearer the school.

The last phase is for children of foreigners. This group forms about 4 per cent of each year's Primary 1 cohort.

One concern, however, is that the new policy will lead to PRs being crowded out of popular schools over time.

But principals like Innova Primary's Michel Saw allayed such worries, stressing that a scenario where every student is Singaporean is nearly impossible. PRs can get a spot if, say, they have an elder sibling in the school.

Nan Chiau's Mr Tan said: 'Our students go for overseas trips to countries like Australia and China annually; this also exposes them to global cultures and gives them a global perspective.'

Schools will have to sacrifice student diversity
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2012

NO DOUBT Singaporean parents with young children are cheering the change in the Primary 1 registration scheme, giving Singaporeans further priority over permanent residents (PRs).

On Sunday, the Education Ministry (MOE) announced that available places in registration phases where balloting is required will be given to Singaporeans first, before being opened up to PRs.

This means Singaporeans in each phase, regardless of where they live, will automatically have priority over PRs who might be living nearer the school. It replaces a previous policy change in 2010, where Singaporeans received two ballot slips compared to one for PRs when they have to ballot for a Primary 1 spot.

Singaporeans eyeing Primary 1 seats in popular schools say they are relieved, as competition for spots has ratcheted up in recent years.

One obvious sign of the competition is the increased number of primary schools which balloted for Primary1 places last year.

Last year, 87 out of 179 schools held balloting exercises, the highest in recent memory. Some of the more popular schools are also seeing more children balloting for fewer spots.

Such a clamour showed that despite the change two years ago to give Singaporeans more chances in the balloting, there were still several left without a place while some PRs received a spot.

Some principals who have had to console Singaporean parents who lost out to PRs support the move to give citizens priority.

As Mr Richard Lim, principal of Anglo-Chinese School (Primary) put it, the change emphasises what the Government has been saying - that Singaporeans come first. 'The education of their children is very important to Singaporeans. This change to the Primary1 registration scheme will help reduce the angst and anxiety that many local parents feel,' he said.

Well and good, Singaporeans gain.

But parents will also have to accept that the price they pay, at least in some of the most popular schools, is missing out on the chance of having their child immersed in a more diverse student population.

According to figures released by MOE, 10 per cent of students enrolled in our primary schools are PRs, while 4 per cent are foreigners.

With Singaporeans given more of an edge, it is likely that many of the popular primary schools will end up with only a sprinkling of PRs and foreigners. Their students could have fewer opportunities to bond and make friends with foreign students and develop cross-cultural literacy, deemed an important 21st century skill.

One father, an old ACS boy who is eyeing a place in his alma mater for his son, reflected on the trade-offs he would have to make in insisting on sending him to the school.

'I am happy that my son will have a better chance of getting in. But I grew up with Indonesians and Malaysians as classmates, and it developed in me the ability to get along with people from all walks of life. My son won't have that.'

To such concerns, some principals say their pupils already have many opportunities, including overseas field trips, to mix with their peers from other countries and develop their cultural quotient. But these are not an equal substitute to the bonds that can develop when children study, eat and play together on a daily basis.

Beyond the concern over diversity, some school principals have also noted that PRs and foreign students compete with local students and spur them on to do better.

That competition may well set in at other less sought-after neighbourhood schools which more children of PRs will now turn to. That may not be a bad outcome at all for these schools and their students.

Striking right citizen-PR balance
Editorial, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2012

IN GIVING Singaporean children 'absolute priority' over permanent residents (PRs) in the Primary One registration exercise whenever balloting is necessary, the Ministry of Education has responded to the demands of citizens over a crucial issue.

This is that the distinction between Singaporeans and PRs should be also clear when parents are vying for limited vacancies in schools of their choice, as their children take the first step of a long learning journey. Unlike PRs, who might later opt for the education system of their home country or for international schools, most Singaporeans want their children to be schooled here, not just for a good education but also to have a sense of identity.

In acceding to the wishes of citizens, the Government has done no more than reiterate the international norm - countries instinctively give first priority to their citizens when resources are finite. Realistic PRs would accept this policy as par for the course.

While placing citizens first, the Government has not ignored the need to preserve Singapore's attractiveness to PRs who wish to sink roots here. There are many good schools that are not the so-called 'brand name' schools. The children of PRs are welcome to attend these other schools which Singaporeans also attend. With seven new primary schools opening in new towns next year, PR parents need not worry that there will not be enough places for their children.

PRs will continue to be valued for their skills, their contribution to the tax base, and their role in helping to arrest the demographic decline of a society that is not reproducing itself sufficiently. This bears repeating in the light of policy tweaks that have reduced the health subsidies given to PRs, and treat citizens more favourably in the levy of an additional buyer's stamp duty on the purchase of residential property.

It is, of course, important to not give any impression that PRs are not wanted. As the last General Election revealed, the social temperature rose considerably over an increase in the number of foreigners and PRs in Singapore. This may abate when the big picture is clearer from the White Paper on population which is expected at the end of the year.

Population planning is indeed Singapore's most critical long-term issue. It is the key to sustaining the vitality and diversity of the city-state, while ensuring all Singaporeans can rest assured that changes will not be at the expense of their life aspirations and those of their children.

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