SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Education (MOE) is rolling out a new billing system to all schools in Singapore to manage collection of money from students.
This comes as court cases of school staff members mishandling money made the news recently.
Mr Clarence Tang, MOE’s divisional director of finance and procurement, confirmed with CNA on Wednesday (Apr 24) that the new School Billing system will be available in all schools from this year.
“The School Billing system was developed by MOE to help schools better manage the billing and payment collection for enrichment programmes and miscellaneous items such as jerseys and yearbooks,” said Mr Tang.
“It provides parents and students with cashless modes of payment to minimise cash transactions in schools,” he said.
When asked, MOE did not provide statistics for cash management issues in schools, nor did it elaborate on how the system works.
The new system comes after a high-profile court case in November last year where a Woodgrove Secondary teacher was accused of pocketing S$40,000 from students.
Maslinda Zainal, who is still on trial for the alleged offences, stands accused of taking the money over two years by over-collecting cash from students for English learning materials.
Just this month, primary school employee Siti Rafeah Hamid was jailed for four months for pocketing about S$36,000 in cash collected from students at Frontier Primary School.
MOE had previously told CNA after Siti Rafeah’s case that it has been “taking steps to tighten the accountability of billing and collections through an MOE billing system for schools”.
Teachers who spoke to CNA on condition of anonymity had mixed reactions to the new system, which is being rolled out in phases across schools.
NO SOP FOR FUND COLLECTION CURRENTLY: TEACHER
One teacher welcomed the new system, saying there are currently "no standard operating procedures" for collection of funds in his school, unless the collection was school-wide.
"For school-wide collection for enrichment and school-based activities, usually a letter will be issued to parents and then cash will be collected by form teachers," he said.
However, for miscellaneous items and events which were not school-based, related to a subject or class-related, it is "own time own target", he added.
"Teachers collect without the need of informing parents," he said. "When we do, we just pay (for the items) and give the items to the students."
He said that teachers should not be appointed to handle cash collection, and that there should be a centralised system under the general office for the handling of payments and collection of cash.
The same teacher said schools were "wary" after the court cases, with meetings held to educate teachers on the importance of professionalism and handling of funds.
"Teachers discussed scenarios and went through pointers on why certain behaviour is not accepted and what is the expected code of conduct," he said. "Now, teachers are not allowed to collect cash on our own. We have to get the principal or the vice-principal's permission before money can be collected."
When funds are collected, he said, they have to be handed to the general office for safekeeping and teachers are not allowed to hold or keep cash.
Another teacher told CNA that his school was beginning to implement a system where no teacher is allowed to collect funds directly from students, unless they are for donations. All money at his school goes directly to the office finance administrators.
Before this, he said, teachers collected money for various fees and programmes from students in cash, which he said was "quite a hassle". There were sometimes hiccups on top of the administrative work and chasing of students.
Another teacher said she currently collects cash directly from students and gets them to sign off on a name list, which she photocopies and passes to the general office along with the cash.
She said she felt mishandling of students' funds is "uncommon" and by "dishonest teachers".
"The new procedures, while they do make it more difficult to mishandle money, are not fixing the actual problem," she said. "I think it just boils down to the integrity of the teacher. There's no one-solution fix."