A recent case of a student who did not receive her Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) certificate due to unpaid school fees has generated much reactions from Singaporeans.
Reactions from the public
One commenter online said that receiving PSLE results should be a highlight for students, and that the results should not be withheld as a form of punishment for unpaid fees.
Former Non-Constituency Member of marliament (NCMP) Yee Jenn Jong noted that there were "teachable moments" for both the Ministry of Education (MOE) and parents.
While Yee did not fault MOE for "needing to have rules to go by", he said that there are also engagement opportunities by the schools and by social welfare organisations to help families work a way out of problems.
Yee said that such a situation also served as a reminder for the family and child that they need to pay for all financial obligations.
Gilbert Goh, founder of a site for the unemployed, was upset with the situation and said that such an issue "can be quite demoralising for children, especially when they compare themselves with their peers".
In response, MOE has clarified that it is not right for individuals to ignore the obligation to pay school miscellaneous fees, given that Singapore's education is almost entirely publicly funded.
Ho has her say
Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek Holdings, chimed in on the issue as well, giving her opinion via a comment on retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan's Facebook post.
Bilahari had singled out this incident as an example that Singapore is not living up to the ideal of a "rugged society".
Go after the parents, not the child
Ho said that the child has studied and worked hard to complete her PSLE, so she should receive her PSLE certificate.
She acknowledged that it was necessary to hold the child's parents accountable for the money owed, but disagreed that the child should be punished for something that she was not responsible for.
Ho also pointed out that if it was a case of an older student, perhaps pursuing O-level or more senior, then it would be different.
This is because older children are more capable of asking for help, or taking up simple part-time jobs to earn the money necessary to pay for their school fees.
She also said that when families are in trouble, they may be overwhelmed, which may cause them to forget about paying for their children's school miscellaneous fees.
More creative methods necessary to help students
Ho added that schools have a part to play in creating a rugged society, and suggested that schools can adopt creative methods in order to solve these issues.
For example, she suggested creating simple part-time volunteer duties with allowances, with roles such as library assistant or tutoring younger students.
This will allow students to earn allowances to pay for their miscellaneous fees or purchase books, food or toys, should their families run into trouble.
Teachers and school staff could also help when students are not able to pay their miscellaneous fees, by visiting their families at home to find out the cause, or calling for social workers to help if necessary.
This is Ho's Facebook comment in full:
I think of the issue differently.
The pre-teen kid has studied and worked hard for her PSLE.
We should give her, her PSLE certificate.
Go after the parents by all means for their debt, but why inflict this on the child?
When families run into trouble, they can be overwhelmed, and may not even think of their kids or their kids’ school miscellaneous fees.
If it’s an O level, A level or ITE/Poly or university student, it’s different, bcos these are older kids who are capable of asking for help, or of taking up simple part time jobs to earn some pocket money, and paying their school fees, whether miscellaneous or tuition.
I think schools can be creative in helping to solve this, and create a rugged society as well.
One way is to create simple part-time volunteer duties with allowances - it can create volunteer roles for library work, traffic crossing assistance for even younger kids, tutoring younger buddies, PE assistants, manning the bookstore, and such like, so that kids can volunteer and earn an allowance for themselves.
This way, kids can earn allowances to pay for their school miscellaneous fees, if their families run into trouble, buy books, food or toys.
Teachers and school staff can also go an extra mile when kids can’t pay their miscellaneous fees - go visit their families at home to find out what is happening, and call for social workers to help if needed.
I know of many teachers who go that extra mile when students are absent, or turn up late frequently, etc.
Top image from Ho Ching and Gilbert Goh's Facebook page.
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