Who said it first?
The catchphrase was first popularised by ex Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and got stuck with him essentially for being so catchy as much as it was being misunderstood.
Indeed, the line is so memorable it reads like an Apple ad:
The problem with such a short and punchy line is that it is open to misinterpretation.
Elite schools = neighbourhood schools = good?
Elite schools in a neighbourhood = neighbourhood schools?
Every school, a good school = No bad schools in Singapore?
Heng had to clarify in parliament back in 2014 on its actual definition.
"Every school a good school does not mean every school the same school. But it does mean every school a good school in its own way, seeking to bring out the best in every child."
Expansion of definition
Heng handed the education portfolio to Acting Ministers Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung in 2015, with Ng taking the Schools portfolio (pre-school to junior college) and Ong taking the Higher Education and Skills job.
Ng expanded on the catchphrase, turning it into some what of an education creed.
This is MOE's definition of a good school circa Sep 8, 2017:
"A good school cares for its students, studying and knowing the needs, interests and strengths of her students and motivates them to learn and grow.
A good school ensures all students acquire strong fundamentals of literacy and numeracy and develops them holistically, in character, knowledge and critical competencies.
A good school creates a positive school experience for each student, making him a confident and lifelong learner.
A good school has caring and competent teachers who are steadfast in their mission to impact lives.
A good school has the support of parents and the community, working together to bring out the best in our children, and
A good school cares for and provides opportunities to all students, regardless of family circumstances."
Much clearer but it lost its punchiness; most would struggle to remember 120 words.
Fast forward to May 2018, Ng left the ministry to become labour chief, leaving Ong solely in-charge of education.
If the catchphrase were an equation, then Heng created it, Ng expanded on it and Ong simplified it.
In his keynote address at the Economic Society of Singapore Dinner, Ong laid down his vision.
"I believe it is important for a Minister in a new portfolio to speak early in his tenure, to set out his basic thinking and approach, so that in time to come, when policies are reviewed and changed, people can understand where the Minister is coming from."
Ong then recounted a conversation with a conversation with a pupil studying in a primary school in Sembawang.
Ong: "Do you like your school?"
O: "Are the teachers good and helping you learn?"
O: "Do you enjoy your CCA?"
O: "Have you made good friends and do you all enjoy one another’s company?"
O: "In the morning, when you go to school, are you happy?"
O: "Then you are in a good school."
He further explained:
And there you have it: Schools that meet needs of child = good schools
"We must define a good school from the perspective of the child. If a school meets the needs of the child, it is a good school - never mind if it is not popular or branded. Conversely, I have seen students who went to popular schools and were miserable. (emphasis ours)"