Tuesday 22 May 2012

Schools 'free to decide how parents volunteer'

View Primary 1 registration scheme with right mindset: Minister
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 21 May 2012

PRIMARY schools will be left to decide how they want parents to volunteer, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

But the parent volunteer scheme should not be just about getting priority for their children in the Primary 1 registration, he pointed out.

Parents should use the opportunity to get to know the programmes offered by different schools in their neighbourhood, he said.

His comments followed a report in The Sunday Times that more brand-name schools are raising the bar for parents wanting to volunteer because of the overwhelming response. They are asking parents to commit longer hours or come up with specific projects.

Some schools like Raffles Girls' Primary and St Hilda's have upped their volunteer requirements this year from 40 to 60 hours. Nanyang Primary raised the contribution to 80 hours. This is well above the Education Ministry's guideline of 'at least 40 hours'.

Asked if the Education Ministry might keep tabs on how the scheme is run or intervene, Mr Heng said that primary schools have the 'discretion to decide on' their parent volunteer schemes.

'It is not the intention to make it more onerous but if parents would like to do more, I think that is not something to be discouraged,' he told reporters on the sidelines of a community event yesterday.

Under Phase 2B, parents who are not alumni or who do not have any ties to the school can register their children if they join the school as parent volunteers by a specified date and have to serve at least 40 hours.

Parents, however, should approach the scheme with the right mindset, said Mr Heng.

The volunteer scheme is aimed at encouraging 'the sense of service' to the schools, he said, noting that many parents have volunteered their time and effort, even after their children have been admitted.

'This is part of our effort to build a community of parents who can come together and work together with other parents in order to help all our children to develop,' he said.

'So it's not just primarily about priority in registration.'

Yesterday, Mr Heng also gave out monetary awards, ranging from $400 to $900, to 103 students in the North East Community Development Council (CDC) who have excelled in co-curricular activities (CCAs) and volunteerism. The awards, the first by a CDC to recognise students' CCA achievements, show CCAs are an important part of the education system, said Mr Heng.

'CCA activities are a very important part of developing the values and the character and leadership qualities... that will allow you to do well in the future.'

Want P1 place? Suggest a project
Schools asking parents to work on more challenging tasks and for longer periods
By Jane Ng, The Sunday Times, 20 May 2012

Popular primary schools have raised the bar for parents hoping to earn a place for their children by being volunteers.

The schools are asking parents to commit to longer hours or come up with specific projects. Not everyone who applies can be a volunteer.

More schools have set 60 to 80 hours of voluntary work if parents want their child registered at Phase 2B of the Primary 1 registration exercise. This is well over the Education Ministry's guideline of 'at least 40 hours'.

Phase 2B is for children whose parents are not alumni and have no other ties to the school.

At least three schools increased their volunteer requirements this year from 40 to 60 hours - Raffles Girls' Primary, St Hilda's and Poi Ching School. Nanyang Primary earlier upped the contribution to 80 hours, Nan Chiau to 60, and Rosyth to 70 hours. Rosyth stopped accepting volunteers this year.

The volunteer scheme was started in 1998 to encourage parents to contribute and know the school better before enrolling their child.

Schools say they limit the number of volunteers to give those who volunteer a better chance at getting their children in. There have been cases of volunteers who were sorely disappointed when their children missed out in a ballot for limited places.

An Education Ministry spokesman said schools are free to ask for more volunteer hours 'depending on individual schools' needs'.

Either parent can be a volunteer, or both parents can split the work over two years.

Poi Ching principal Lawrence Chong said the school increased its requirement as it was in high demand. It has kept to 30 volunteers every year to ensure that most, if not all, parents can get a place.

'We have so many parents asking. Some don't mind doing more hours, others continue to serve even after they complete the hours,' he said.

The more stringent requirements have left some parents feeling discouraged, while others said they would do whatever it took to get their children into Phase 2B.

About 40,000 children enter Primary 1 each year.

Popular schools said they typically receive 100 to 200 applications a year, but accept no more than 30 volunteers.

St Hilda's has further trimmed this to 25 this year, said Mrs Katherine Wong, programme executive of the parent support group at the school in Tampines.

With fewer volunteers, more hours are required of each, and several have in fact chalked up 300 hours.

Among them is Ms Adelina Ko, 48, a part-time polytechnic lecturer who will be registering her elder son, Ethan, six, this year. She has been helping in two reading programmes once a week for three hours.

She completed the required hours last year but has continued as she found it 'rewarding and meaningful'.

While the extra hours will not affect the ballot for Phase 2B, parents who fail at the ballot can appeal, and that is when the extra hours might count, said principals.

Schools are also setting more challenging tasks for parent volunteers. Where previously they might help out only with directing traffic, being chaperones on excursions or reading to the children, parents are now being asked for a wider range of support.

Nanyang Primary looks for help in IT, for instance, robotics or web page design; Catholic High wants long-term projects; and South View needs help for its teachers to create digital learning tools.

Principals said their hands are tied when it comes to the number of places that can go to children of parent volunteers as it depends on the number of vacancies left after each phase.

Nan Chiau principal Tan Chun Ming said parents who do not get their first choice should not despair as schools are comparable in terms of standards and rigour.

But that is unlikely to sway parents who have set their sights on a particular school. It explains why some even try to volunteer at more than one school.

Mrs M. Lim, 36, a housewife with a toddler, is eyeing two popular girls' schools.

'The P1 registration system has become like a gambling game and parents will do anything to buy more chances for their children,' she said. 'If we volunteer at more than one, we can register at the school with more vacancies during Phase 2B.'


Phase 1
For a child who has a sibling studying in the school

Phase 2A(1)

For a child whose parent is a former pupil and a member of the alumni association

Phase 2A(2)

For a child whose parent or sibling has studied in the school or parent is a staff member of the school

Phase 2B

For a child whose parent is a parent volunteer who has done at least 40 hours of service; or whose parent is a member endorsed by the church/clan directly connected with the school; or whose parent is endorsed as an active community leader

Phase 2C

For all other children

Phase 2C Supplementary

For those not yet registered after Phase 2C

Phase 3

For foreigners

From this year, Singapore citizens will be given absolute priority over permanent residents when there is balloting.

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