Jan 24, 2011

CCAs and the Government's Edusave Top-Up

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?


fuzzoo said...

I agree that getting experts to teach these enrichment classes is a good idea but I am very much against the DSA scheme for the reason that it puts additional pressure on kids already stressed out by academic demands. The DSA benefits the schools more than the child as it results in top schools getting top sportsmen, dancers, etc who would win medals for the school so that the latter can boast of offering a "holistic education" when in actual fact their students winning sports awards are not the same ones bringing the school glory in the academic arena. The only "benefit" to the students is that they get to associate themselves with an elite school. This doesn't speak well of our society when so much emphasis is placed on whether u attend an "elite" school or a neighbourhood school. Rather than preach meritocracy I wish we would instead learn to respect everyone who puts in honest effort.

And no I don't think our gahmen is generous. Not only stingy but they discriminate as well. At least kids in mainstream schools receive Edusave. Homeschoolers do not (never mind that we r citizens too and pay taxes). Furthermore homeschoolers have to score higher than one third of the cohort (I.e. qualify for the Express Stream), if not then re-sit the PSLE the following year.

mjuse said...

And this is how income inequality perpetuates itself in a meritocracy.

It's fine for wealthier parents to spend more on their kids. that is their prerogative. But if the average, never mind lower income, parent is unable to spend the "standard" amount, their kids typically achieve less than than what is "expected" .

in a meritocracy, what are termed achievements are sometimes just opportunities made accessible by the wealth, time and cultural advantages conferred by money and status.

for better or for worse, the government has decidedly chosen not to level the playing field. in some ways, it has tilted it even more.

Anonymous said...

This is the result of our meritocratic system.

Most likely your kids are attending the brand name schools that have most of their students whose parents belong to the upper end of social economic status. (Not saying all but saying MOST parents in these top schools can afford it so the schools do not have to think about heavy subsidy for most of the students and could get the top names to run these programmes). So these schools have access to more resources since if 80% can afford on their own, they only have to allocate enough subsidy for 20% of the students so that they look meritocratic. (so going to elite schools is more than just the association of a brand name, if the average kid can take the pressure of being surrounded by richer people while being average, there are benefits cos the elite school has access to more resources)

At the neighbourhood schools, the average students would be left with tier 2 programmes such as having an ex-national sportsperson to coach the students lor. (since 80% of the students cannot afford brand name programmes, the school cannot bring in the tier 1 programmes) Still better than teachers who know nuts about the CCA but way cheaper.

End of the day, the CCA/Edusave top-up is a reflection of our meritocratic system lar. It is not about providing equal start, providing everyone with the opportunity to be exposed to same education but it is about providing "fruits of success" at similar heights. The government would provide a stool for everyone to reach higher, but if your parents can afford a ladder then better for you lor. Otherwise, better hope that you are born with strong legs that let you jump higher.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, thank you for this post.

I know that to some extent, you have "retired" from active blogging. But this post really reminds me of your good old days, when you produced excellent articles so regularly, sharing your insights into issues close to Singaporeans' heart.

It is a shame that this issue of escalating CCA costs (which is ultimately an issue about the increasing cost of education in Singapore) has never been noted or discussed by our mainstream media, or our highly-paid MPs.

They have lost touch with the people.

Anonymous said...

Fuzzoo said:

@mjuse. The real killer is not enrichment classes but tuition. U can take art class, ballet class, etc fairly cheaply at CCs. On the other hand, private tuition costs $30 an hour; popular tutors charge as much as $80 an hour. Almost every child in Singapore has tuition because school work and the PSLE is becoming more and more demanding. E.g. Multiplication used to be in P2/P3 math but is now P1 math. You get questions like 4+4+4+4+4=2x? In P1 now.

Imagine the drain on finances tuition is for families that r less well off. But they too want their kids to do well academically; everyone has an equal chance to be "successful" if they work hard right?

Sadly too many people here have bought into the idea of meritocracy when surely there r better ideals to base society on.

Anonymous said...

Maybe such costs are not an issue as they do not arise at all for many people.

Why? Because many chose to remain single or if married, not to have children.

After all that our fertility rate has dropped to 1.16 is testimony to this.

Then there will be a time primary schools will be concerned whether there will be enough pupils for enrolment, let alone all other things, least of all CCAs.

The low fertility rate is heavenly retribution for the kind of policies we have. If we continue like this it will fall even further from the extremely low levels now.

I shudder to think of the future, 20 or 30 years from now.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad my children were not brought up in Singapore. What is the point of having children only to see them suffer in the ultra competitive (small) world?

Singapore badly needs some philosophers.

Alan Wong said...

Shouldn't all these CCA activities be free since our Govt always say that there are equal opportunities for every student to excel ?

Looks like those students especially those who are from the from the poorer family backgrounds including those who are slow learners, shy and introvert by nature will forever be left far behind in our education system to remain the underclass of our society.

DareToAct said...

Meritocracy is elitism in disguise

Anonymous said...

You see Wang, I have this hunch that MOE has a problem because it staffs too much of its admin and planning units with - teachers. People who have been selected and trained to - teach.

It is not their fault if they think almost single dimensional in planning MOE forecasts by looking back on their strengths - paedegogy. And we have heard more than a few times on how fresh graduates (most of the teachers?) going direct into teaching lack real world experience and don't understand real work work place?

MOE needs to re-think their staffing. Teachers sign up with MOE to T-E-A-C-H. Some do have other talents such as admin. But do they have sufficient experience and foresight to do what they should do? Got me thinking is, if Pri, Sec, JC teachers staff most of higher education division, they don't have work experience in higher education (whose teachers are professors), so how much do they really know about higher education planning and future?

Karmeleon said...

And in the end, what is the success rate for DSA even among the most outstanding performers? If we are talking about top schools - very few - so very slim. Of course many places available in the 2nd and 3rd tier schools, but those may not be the kids target and why would a child bother to try DSA to a not so popular school? Can get there with their own psle scores, so no need to work so hard on CCA.

Anonymous said...

What are we competing for? The end point of an education is?

Employment and better income.

Has our ever more competitive, even world beating education delivered? No. Our real wage has dropped for 4 years? Our wonderous talents higher mortals has been telling us to accept even lower pay come recession or economic boom.

So what is the value of pushing the kids to heights of achievement, only to recognize supposedly not as wonderful overseas qualifications as as good or even better?

It is sad when you lose in competition. It is even worse when you lose objectives in competing.

MOE's KPIs should not be world class education, but world class real wages and increased number of CEOs, CFOs, COOs produced by Singapore system over the years.

Have we been successful on these counts?

Happy new year everyone.

Meritocracy or whatever world class education we purchase, are but just an academia's dream of KPIs, but death of talents when objectives are not recognized or forgotten with time.

Anonymous said...

In another word, highly likely only a very small portion of the 115 million dollars will be utilized.

This is not the first time PAP use this way to make people feel good. It an clever alternative way to tell people that even if the money is there to help your children, you have to be rich enough to use it.

Think again. Is PAP is using public fund to subsidizing the rich?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
In another word, highly likely only a very small portion of the 115 million dollars will be utilized.

This is not the first time PAP use this way to make people feel good. It an clever alternative way to tell people that even if the money is there to help your children, you have to be rich enough to use it.

Think again. Is PAP is using public fund to subsidizing the rich?

January 24, 2011 9:15 PM"

I think your conspiracy theory is quite off here. Other than CCA, Edusave is also used for enrichment classes / trips in schools. In most schools, teachers are aware of the $ and often pre-plan to make use of the $ (such as for a field trip). Even if the money is somehow not used, they get transferred to the student's CPF account at the age of 21. So everyone gets the money, not just the rich.

Anonymous said...

Examining this system of funding and education, I wont say that it is a complete failure but it needs to be re-worked so that it is based on needs lar.

Most of the policy officers are probably scholars from GEP and well to do families who think that it is fair to give everyone the same amount of money and avoid any sensitive political issues of being perceived as unfair. But the fact is it is making our education system slowly evolving into 2 categories of have's and have-not's. It is like the super rich private schools vs the making-do public schools in the States already lar. So the rich go to the rich schools to fraternize and build relationships with other rich kids while the poor kids are dumped together so that they can hang out in the void decks after school.

Not a very integrated society lor. So rather than being needs-blind, there should be a division of funding. A small portion that is cut up equally to give to every kid for their edusave account and another portion that is distributed based on needs. Schools that have more poor kids would then have access to more public funding while the rich schools can depend on the rich parents to fund brand name programmes. Even the old man acknowledge in ST that the brand name schools have "more frills" lar. So rather than trying to weasel out by saying the teachers are "on the whole" similar in quality and only the background of the parents play a part, implement policies that ensure that the poor and the average are not disadvantaged (too much) lar. If the GST offset package is distributed based on needs, then why not for education funding?

Anonymous said...

help who?


fighting fit said...

Many schools will get enough CCA and other external consultants and trainers to come in and "help" you all spend all the Edusave -- and more. That means, parents must top up with cash.

It is really a way to push parents to "enrich" their kids, and Edusave (which, if you think about it, comes from tax dollars, isn't it?), only helps pay for a part of the "enrichment." And I seem to see more things being shifted into the "external consultant taught" category. These are things that were taught by MOE teachers years ago.

Didn't we use to have music teachers in our time? Now we have external trainers do that. We learnt typing on our own. Now, they have trainers (course payable by Edusave, of cos) in pri schools.

Anonymous said...

I thought Edusave top up quantum is based on parents' income and type of home. Not everyone get the same amount. School use it not only for CCA but also for other things like purchase of extra reading materials, printing notes, etc. There are wastage as far as I am can see, for examples some of the extra reading material are not read or use in their course of study. I think there should be some kind of audit to ensure fund use for genuine needs. Otherwise, it looks like publishers are the beneficiaries of the scheme.

Anonymous said...

It is always nice to read a well-written and argued piece. I do agree that the edusave is hardly enough to cover all the extras that the schools get their students to do these days. But I think there is a big difference between the kind of programmes brought in by the schools of Mr Wang's children and mine, who attend a neighbourhood school.

So far, there's been stuff like in-line skating, tennis and clay making - hardly the kind of stuff that will get my children through the DSA!

Also I always notice there's a huge subsidy for the FAS kids - those on the Financial Assistance Scheme. Do those who don't fall under FAS miss out of these extras? I think they do but those at the very bottom do have a chance.

Whatever the case, I really think the playing field is not level and this probably explains why such a huge proportion of the wealthy populate the top schools in singapore.

Anonymous said...

This is another example of biased drivel masquerading as thoughtful critique.

Mr Wang welcomes structure and excellence in CCA, but moans about having to pay for it. He cites the cost of one of the more expensive CCAs being offered (ballet), and then complains poor families (not him, of course) cannot afford it. His real argument is that all students have some inherent right to take part in any activity they want and for someone else should pay for it. What he really wants of course is not to pay anything for his kids’ CCAs (although he can afford it). Let’s get real. There are still many CCAs which are affordable to all, especially with Edusave. We can of course go back to the good old days – where schools offered limited or amateurishly run CCAs – and rich people (like Mr Wang) sent their kids to private ballet classes.

But that is not what he wants. Apparently, some people are never satisfied.


Piper said...

This is why most students in my very-neighbourhood school have no $$ in their edusave and thus need to pay in cash. This of course ends up with situations in which the students owe the school hundreds of dollars.

Anyway, to be honest, at Secondary school level, only the richer schools (i.e. those with mostly well-off students) can afford to have such wonderful, structured programmes. In poor schools, the we teachers still have to run the CCA programmes ourselves because we don't have the money to pay for instructors. Our money is used for other programmes to ensure our students have basic needs.

Anonymous said...

These silly Ang Mohs love to sing praises of PAP that made the PAP big head becoems even much bigger!

Thomas L. Friedman / Singapore knows how to govern
Its pragmatic leaders watch and learn from the rest of the world
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
SINGAPORE -- I am in the Gan Eng Seng Primary School in a middle-class neighborhood of Singapore, and the principal, A.W. Ai Ling, has me visiting a fifth-grade science class. All the 11-year-old boys and girls are wearing white lab coats with their names on them. In the hall, yellow police tape has blocked off a "crime scene" and lying on a floor, bloodied, is a fake body that has been murdered. The class is learning about DNA through the use of fingerprints, and their science teacher has turned the students into little CSI detectives. They have to collect fingerprints from the scene and then break them down.

I missed that DNA lesson when I was in fifth grade. When I asked the principal whether this was part of the national curriculum, she said no. She just had a great science teacher, she said, and was aware that Singapore was making a big push to expand its biotech industries and thought it would be good to push her students in the same direction early. A couple of them checked my fingerprints. I was innocent -- but impressed.

This was just an average public school, but the principal had made her own connections between "What world am I living in," "Where is my country trying to go in that world" and, therefore, "What should I teach in fifth-grade science."

I was struck because that kind of linkage is so often missing in U.S. politics today. Republicans favor deep cuts in government spending, while so far exempting Medicare, Social Security and the defense budget. Not only is that not realistic, but it basically says that our nation's priorities should be to fund retirement homes for older people rather than better schools for younger people and that we should build new schools in Afghanistan before Alabama.

President Barack Obama just laid out a smart and compelling vision of where our priorities should be. But he did not spell out how and where we will have to both cut and invest -- really intelligently and at a large scale -- to deliver on his vision.

Singapore is tiny and by no means a U.S.-style democracy. Yet, like America, it has a multiethnic population -- Chinese, Indian and Malay -- with a big working class. It has no natural resources and even has to import sand for building. But today its per capita income is just below U.S. levels, built with high-end manufacturing, services and exports. The country's economy grew last year at 14.7 percent, led by biomedical exports. How?

If Singapore has one thing to teach America, it is about taking governing seriously, relentlessly asking: What world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive. "We're like someone living in a hut without any insulation," explained Tan Kong Yam, an economist. "We feel every change in the wind or the temperature and have to adapt. You Americans are still living in a brick house with central heating and don't have to be so responsive." And we have not been.

Singapore probably has the freest market in the world; it doesn't believe in import tariffs, minimum wages or unemployment insurance. But it believes regulators need to make sure markets work properly -- because they can't on their own -- and it subsidizes homeownership and education to give everyone a foundation to become self-reliant.

Singapore copied the German model that strives to put everyone who graduates from high school on a track for higher education, but only about 40 percent go to universiti

Thomas L. Friedman is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11032/1121960-109.stm#ixzz1D4iwdlqs

Anonymous said...

Please don't generalize. Not every 'branded' school in Spore makes the parents pay for their children's CCA. My son has been involved in kayaking in ACSI for 6 years. I never had to fork out any money for equipment or coaches. Only 1 occasion he had to buy a dragon boating oar. And ACSI is one of the top schools in Spore for canoeing. And they use very expensive kayaks too.

It all depends on the individual sports and the teachers/coaches in charge. He told me their rugby counterparts had to pay quite a bit every month.

The same goes for private tuition. All my three children went through school with quite satisfactory results without tuition. And I should add that they are not extraordinarily intelligent. Just average IQ kids. I am sure there are many cases just like mine.


Anonymous said...

LOL, what an irrelevant example. Firstly, ACSI is a secondary school, not a primary school, therefore the DSA point doesn't arise at all. Secondly, ACSI being an independent school is already charging school fees which is many, many times (about 25 times?) more than the school fees in a government school. That's how you're paying for your son's kayaking, silly.

Karmeleon said...

Interestingly, if you want to compare independent/govt sec schools ... my elder boy who's in a govt IP school pays S$20/mth school fees but has never had to pay a cent for his CCA and the instructors, while he used to have to pay a S$100/year co-payment to help defray instructor costs when he was in primary school for the very same CCA!!!!!! Go figure, huh?

Anonymous said...

If your son is paying $20 per month, then he is not in an independent school, he is in an autonomous school. Independent schools charge between $200 to $300 per month, you can check it out on the MOE website.

Karmeleon said...

I already said he's in a govt sec school. I didn't say he's in an independent school. In any case, totally worth it lah.