Jan 24, 2011
$155 million top-up for Edusave scheme
By Kor Kian Beng & Leow Si Wan
THE Government is pumping some $155 million into the Edusave scheme to ensure that students can continue to enjoy enrichment classes and IT-enabled programmes, despite higher inflation.
The top-up is the biggest since the Edusave scheme was launched in 1993.
The Edusave account of each student in primary and secondary school will get a one-off boost of $130 this year.
This brings the total amount that a primary school pupil gets this year to $330, and a secondary student, $370.
The account top-ups will total $54.8 million.
Announcing the news on Sunday, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen added that the Ministry of Education (MOE) has given an additional $100 million in Edusave grants to government, government-aided and independent schools.
So in the run-up to the elections, here's the government trying to look generous. But it's really not generous at all. Let me elaborate.
I have two children. Both are in primary school. The girl goes to an all-girls school and the boy goes to an all-boys school. In fact, this is the boy's second primary school (he had transferred from elsewhere).
So over the past few years, I have become well-acquainted with the in's and out's of three separate primary schools. I know a lot about how they operate. And through them, I also have a good sense of how Singapore's primary schools operate.
For instance, I know that nowadays, schools take their CCA activities very seriously indeed. If you are an "outsider" to the current school scene, you would really be surprised.
In the old days, "CCA" (or "ECA", as it used to be known) was often little more than letting the boys randomly bounce a basketball around on the court, after school hours. Kids were not supervised. Every CCA had a teacher in charge, but the teacher didn't necessarily know anything about the activity at all.
(For example, when I was in primary school, the chess club was run by a teacher who didn't know how to play the game. She couldn't even tell the difference between the king and the queen).
Those days are over. CCAs are now much more structured, and well-planned. There is much more focus on proper accreditation, accountability and objectives. The "KPI" management style of thinking has invaded the universe of school CCAs.
The teachers still don't necessarily know anything about the CCAs, but now they don't have to. Nowadays, primary schools regularly engage external professional instructors to conduct the courses and activities for the children.
For example, my daughter has taken up ballet as her CCA. Her school has engaged ballet instructors from the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) to run this CCA. RAD is the local subsidiary of the RAD in London, a well-established, 90-year-old ballet school whose syllabus is taught in 82 countries around the world.
Music lessons are also compulsory for all students in the school, from Primary One to Primary Three. The school has a three-year programme leading up to a Grade 1 examination for the ABRSM Theory of Music. Again, external music instructors are engaged to conduct the course.
Meanwhile, at his previous school, my son had joined Speech & Drama. This CCA had plenty of fun activities (including a short public performance at Bishan National Library). But again there was a proper underlying structure. This CCA adopted the Trinity-Guildhall exam syllabus from London. Taken far enough, it would lead to a formal certificate in Speech & Drama that is the equivalent of an O-level subject.
Why are schools, even primary schools, taking their CCAs so seriously?
The answer is simple. It is a consequence of certain changes that the Singapore government had made to the education system, over the years.
In the past, academic results were all that mattered, in helping you to get from primary school to secondary, or secondary to JC, or JC to university. Nowadays, however, the student's CCA achievements can be used to help him gain admission to the next stage of education.
For primary schools, the specific driver is the Direct Schools Admission policy. It is now possible for a Primary Six student to secure a place in a top secondary school, even before his PSLE results are out (in fact, even before he has actually taken his PSLE exams). All he has to do is demonstrate a sufficiently high level of CCA achievement.
Schools are now restructuring their CCA activities, such that their students' CCA achievements are more objectively verifiable. In some cases, this means that the CCA ultimately leads to some accredited certification (for example, a certificate from Trinity Guildhall, Royal Academy of Dance, and so on). In other cases, it means getting the students to participate (and win some prize) in a nationally recognisable CCA-related event (such as an inter-school sports competition).
I like the idea of systematic, well-run CCA programmes. This is because I believe that young people should get the chance to pursue their personal interests, beyond the academic syllabus. Overall, it makes for a more well-rounded education. I'm also a believer in the principle of "If you want to do it, then do it well - otherwise don't do it at all.". That's why I like the idea of properly-qualified instructors running the students' CCA programmes.
On the other hand, there is the very relevant consideration of financial cost. Parents have to fork out more money to pay for their children's increased CCA expenses.
In the old days, taking part in a CCA was free or cheap. But nowadays, CCAs cost money. That is because external instructors cost money. So do their exams, their materials and their equipment (just imagine the cost of buying enough Yamaha keyboards for all Primary 1, 2 and 3 students in a school, to have weekly music lessons). Here's another example - when my son took his Speech & Drama exam, an external examiner was flown in from London to Singapore, to conduct the exam. Somebody's got to be paying for that man's flight and accomodation.
It's worth noting that as a practical matter, CCAs aren't optional. They are compulsory. Your child may get to pick his specific CCA (for example, a sport or a musical activity), but he MUST pick at least one. Also, depending on the school, some CCAs can be compulsory for all the kids.
Personally, the money doesn't bother me. I can afford the costs of my children's CCAs. On the other hand, I am much wealthier than the average Singaporean. So I do wonder how the average Singaporean parent is coping.
Back to the Straits Times article.
We learn that the government has given a $130 Edusave top-up for each student. This means that each primary student gets a total of $330. Edusave is meant for enrichment activities, i.e CCAs and the like.
Now, using my daughter as an example, let's see how helpful the Singapore government's top-up really is, taking into consideration actual expenditure in practical reality.
My daughter's ballet leotard cost about $80 (I bought the cheaper one, the most expensive version recommended by the school was about $120). The ballet class itself costs $300. The compulsory music course costs $40 (after the school subsidy). There is also a compulsory Gymnastics & Rope Skipping programme (again, external instructors are engaged). This costs another $40.
That's a total of $460. The Edusave account has been completely wiped out. More than completely wiped out.
And note that right now, it's only January. The school year has just begun. As the year goes on, there will be more fees to pay.
Still think that the government is generous?
Here are a few points that I would like to know.
When the Singapore government introduced schemes such as the Direct Schools Admission policy, did it not anticipate that schools would then start beefing up their own CCA programmes? And that the costs of these programmes would start escalating dramatically?
If the Singapore government knew this, then did it not foresee that a large part of the costs would be passed on to the parents? If so, did it stop to consider whether the average Singaporean parent can cope with these increased costs? What's being done, to help the poorer families?