ST Aug 20, 2009
Thanks, being a PR is good enough
IN RESPONSE to letters by Mr Jimmy Loke ('The PR difference', last Saturday) and Mr Chia Kok Leong ('No school, no Singapore', last Saturday), I would only ask them to refer to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's speech reported last Friday ('MM: Foreign talent is vital'), where he gave an idea of the benefits citizens have over permanent residents (PRs).
I am happy to be a PR and although we do not get equal benefits in housing and other respects, that is understandable. We understand the difference between a citizen and a PR.
But where our children are concerned, we just want them to have the best education possible and I think we are not asking much. Citizens have the upper hand in buying homes and other respects, which is justified, but where schooling is concerned, 'every child has the right to get the best education possible'.
About living here for six years and not taking citizenship, I think this is a very personal choice. I would just like to end this topic by saying we are not here to compete with citizens but there are certain things on which one cannot compromise and children's education is one of them. I think we are not asking much and we are grateful to the Government for understanding that for every parent, his child's welfare comes first.
I would like to thank Mr Loke and Mr Chia for inviting us to become citizens but for now, I am proud to be a citizen of my country and have PR status in Singapore.
Sweta Agarwal (Mrs)
The context of this letter is admission to primary schools. The process is highly competitive, for the top schools. PRs and Singaporeans are treated the same way in the admissions process (which leads some Singaporeans to complain).
Actually, that's incorrect. The deeper truth is that Singaporeans do not enjoy the same rights as PRs, as far as primary school admissions are concerned. Singaporeans are disadvantaged, vis a viz the PRs. Let me explain.
Some years ago, I went to a friend's home for a party. Mark is Australian by birth, and has since become a PR. He also had two sons, who were then of primary school age.
The two boys were not attending a local primary school. Instead they were attending an international school in Singapore. I can't remember exactly which one now - it could have been the Singapore American School, or perhaps it was the Australian International School.
Mark started to tell me about what his sons did in school, the kind of curriculum they had etc. His two sons also showed me their school projects, and photos of their school activities.
It struck me that in some ways, this international school was much better than the average local school. There was less emphasis on rote learning, memory work and exams. The children had more time for sports, cultural activities and field trips. It was a happier, more creative kind of learning environment.
I began to think that if I could, maybe I should also send my son to an international school, when he was old enough.
But I learned later that I could not.
PRs in Singapore can send their young children to a local primary school, or to an international school. The PRs have the right to choose. If they choose a local primary school, then they enjoy the same priority as Singaporean citizens, in the admissions process. Alternatively, PRs can send their children to an international school in Singapore, such as one of these:
Singapore American SchoolHowever, Singaporean citizens do not have that option. They are not allowed to send their young children to international schools. Whether they like it or not, they must send their children to a local primary school. Not because the international schools reject Singaporeans. But because the Singapore government says so.
Australian International School
Canadian International School
Stamford American International School
Avondale Grammar School
Emaar International School
One World International School
EtonHouse International School
Overseas Family School
Tanglin Trust School
The Swiss School Singapore
The Compulsory Education Act states that Singaporean parents must send their child, at age six, to attend a "national primary school". The rule is compulsory, and excludes international schools, and does not apply to PRs, but only to Singaporeans.
Therefore unlike PRs, Singaporeans do not have the option of sending their little children to an international school (instead of a local school). In fact, that would be a criminal offence. You could be sent to prison for up to one year.
Isn't it fun to be Singaporean? It's like being one of the heroes in Mission Impossible. There are booby traps everywhere you turn.
Time for another poem, from my book Two Baby Hands (which is available at Kinokuniya). This poem explains what I find disturbing, about the local education system. Sandra Davie, the ST journalist who writes about education, likes this particular poem a lot. Sandra told me so herself, when she came to my book launch and I was autographing her copy.
In Our Schools
Some are Special,
or Express. A few are
Gifted. The others
are merely Normal
(a polite lie).
All are classifiable,
like chemical compounds,
lists of Chinese
or lab specimens of
dead insects -
pinned by a cold