SINGAPORE: The Primary 1 registration framework is undergoing a review on whether the number of places set aside for students without priority admission can be increased, said Minister for Education Lawrence Wong on Wednesday (Mar 3).
Students who do not have priority admission apply to a school under Phase 2C, which is based on home-school distance, during Primary 1 registration. Each school sets aside 20 places for this phase.
Competition for places in popular schools has intensified in recent years, with more schools having to conduct balloting, said Mr Wong during the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Committee of Supply debate in Parliament.
“Such popular schools are not limited to a particular locality ... As a result, even with the 20 places set aside for Phase 2C, some children do not get to attend a school near their home,” he said.
He agreed with suggestions from MP Patrick Tay (PAP-Pioneer) and Shawn Huang (PAP-Jurong) that the number of places in Phase 2C should be increased.
Mr Wong also said that MOE is sympathetic to appeals from these parents, “because there are many good reasons why children should be able to get a place in one of the schools near where they live”.
The ministry recognises that any increase in places for Phase 2C would mean greater competition in the earlier phases for more popular schools, he added.
Phases 1 to 2A of the Primary 1 registration exercise are for children who have prior connections, such as those with siblings in the school or whose parents are former students.
Phase 2B is for children whose parent is a volunteer at the school or is a community leader or a member endorsed by the church or clan connected with the school. Each school sets aside 20 places for this phase, in addition to the 20 places for Phase 2C.
“We will have to study this carefully and balance the competing demands to give Singaporean children and their families a better chance at their school of choice, particularly if it is near their home, while still recognising the merits of providing some priority to certain groups,” said Mr Wong.
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In his speech, Mr Wong also addressed Mr Patrick Tay, Associate Professor Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) and Ms Hazel Poa’s (NCMP) concerns and suggestions about class sizes.
Noting that MPs compared Singapore’s larger class sizes to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) norms, he said: “I hope they understand that it is not that we have fewer teachers as compared to the OECD countries.”
While there has been a “slight decline” in the teaching force in recent years, MOE has broadly maintained it at about 32,000, said Mr Wong.
“Also, it is more relevant to compare our teacher numbers with our student enrolment numbers,” he added.
The pupil-teacher ratio has improved over the last decade, from about 19 in 2010 to 15 currently for primary schools, and from 16 to 12 for secondary schools. This is “comparable” to OECD averages, said Mr Wong.
Teachers are deployed to where they can “maximise their impact”, such as at the earliest grade levels or where students have greater needs, he said.
For example, learning support programmes run in class sizes of eight to 10, said Mr Wong. Foundation classes in upper primary are taught in smaller classes of between 10 and 20 students, and classes for secondary students in the Normal (Technical) course are generally smaller.
“Compared to other OECD countries, we also devote a larger share of our teachers’ time to important activities that are crucial for students’ holistic development, such as CCAs (co-curricular activities), like professional development and lesson preparation,” he added.
Addressing Assoc Prof Lim’s suggestion that private tuition plays a role in Singaporean students doing well in international studies, Mr Wong said this is "not being very fair" to school teachers.
“In fact, the OECD and other research point to teacher quality as being the critical element in influencing student learning and performance,” he said.