“Students in neighbourhood schools are happier and have better contacts than elite school,” claims a recent graduate who had studied in elite and neighbourhood schools.
My first reaction was: What bollocks!! Kids in elite schools are just as happy, if not happier because of their accomplishments!! They may experience more stress caused by the higher standards and expectations from school and parents, but these kids learn to thrive and flourish in a competitive environment; in school and later in the work force. I also believe that parents play a huge role in helping them to manage expectations and stress. As for “having better contacts”, that depends on the social attributes of individuals, regardless if they were from neighbourhood or elite schools.
But I was part of a televised discussion on BlogTV, to deliberate whether neighbourhood schools are indeed better than branded schools and if Singaporean parents should give neighbourhood schools a chance. I thought it was more prudent to let the young girl have her say. Also, due to time constrains, my ability to challenge my opponents or emphasize my points (we only had about 20 minutes of airtime) was limited.
Branded School vs Neighbourhood School
The basis of the show was sparked by the call from Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and Singapore Minister of State (Trade and Industry) Teo Ser Luck in last week’s Parliamentary session urging parents to reconsider neighbourhood schools.
There were three of us on the panel – myself, a parent who prefers to send my children to elite schools, another parent who transferred her son from an elite school to a neighbourhood school and the recent graduate. Our hosts were the affable Cheryl Fox and Tim Oh, who facilitated the discussion with questions directed at each party, thereby rendering it less of a discussion and more of a Q&A session.
A couple of issues brought up on the show were inadequately addressed and I will like to do so here.
1. Given the local parents’ obvious preference of Branded School over Neighbourhood School, is the perception of these schools valid?
For me, perception is objective and can be changed. For the first three years, Tanjong Katong Primary School was a neighbourhood school in the East that local parents ignored, until its reputation for being a school with a good mix of local and expatriate students and the school’s focus on leadership qualities permeated into the local parents’ consciousness. Overnight, the school became a “branded” school with a long line of Singaporean students queuing at its gates.
Thus, the validity of local parents’ perceptions on “branded” or “neighbourhood” schools are immaterial. What the Ministry of Education (MOE) should focus on is the task of ensuring that all schools provide equal, if not different/varied opportunities to the school-age children of Singapore. MOE should also take great care to eliminate the unhealthy need to “label” schools and segregate its students.
And let’s be honest, branded or elite schools have more resources and better financial support than neighbourhood schools. Perhaps, MOE should explore giving neighbourhood schools the financial boost necessary to offer more enriching services or curriculum to their students.
Finally, elite schools often have very high functioning parents who work hard to ensure that the school culture meets their children’s needs and vice-versa. When the playing field is more even, local parents will not have a preference for “branded” or “neighbourhood” schools, but a choice selection of good schools best suited to their children’s talents or personality.
2. Are parents wrong to plan an academic route for their children?
My revelation of my 12-year academic plan for my child brought looks of horror on my opponents. Let me explain. I intend to place my child in a primary school (6 years) that has an affiliated secondary school (4 years). My child then has the option to do an Integrated Program (IP) or attend an affiliated Junior College (2 years).
All three affiliated schools enjoy a top-notch reputation as elite schools. As affiliated schools, they give entry preference to the students of the schools associated with them. This alleviates some of the tremendous stress on the students and their parents during the crucial school-leaving exams (Primary School Leaving Exam or O-Levels) and allow the child to focus on more important tasks - Ace that exam.
Like most Singaporean parents, I desire the best for my children. Aside from imparting good moral values and character building, I believe that giving them an opportunity to have a good education is the best foundation or gift I can offer for their future.
But what constitutes a good education? Here again, is fertile ground for differing views. Is it the learning experience for the student? Or is it the reputation of an education institution that provides academic excellence?
The world’s most famous school drop-outs Steve Jobs (Apple) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) have shown us that a degree is not necessary to achieve stellar success. And yet, top employers (think Fortune 500 companies) will consider your application if you have had an elite education (think Ivy League universities). Not to mention the connections and associations you gain as a cohort of these institutions.
Detractors can continue to cry foul that branded schools are no better than neighbourhood schools; and that going to a branded school does not guarantee success. But let’s be real. If you have some hidden talent like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, more power to you. But if you are like any regular Jane or Joe, and a degree is what you are after, then it DOES matter what school you go to.
BlogTV is aired weekly on Channel News Asia on Wednesday, 8pm.
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