Elite Schools vs Neighborhood Schools – Are All Schools Equal?

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.

Singapore Schools Students
Singapore Schools Students – Photo Credit:news.xin.msn.com

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.

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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 neighborhood 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 neighborhood 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 neighborhood 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 “neighborhood” 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 neighborhood schools. Perhaps, MOE should explore giving neighborhood 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 “neighborhood” 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 allows 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 educational 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 neighborhood 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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Meiling Wong

Meiling is a Singaporean mom who loves spending time with her 2 kids until they ditch her for slime-making and digital gaming. These days, she keeps herself busy trying to keep up with the social media while still contemplating if she should learn how to play "Clash Royale".

6 thoughts on “Elite Schools vs Neighborhood Schools – Are All Schools Equal?

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    • 25/05/2013 at

      A few facts : Singapore kids study very hard. Any nobel prize earned from hard work. Most of singaporean kids study music pushed by their parents. Any world class music star ? Science and math thought to be of high importance at school in singapore. Any leading mechanical enginering company. Car? Planes ? Trains ? Or mechanical equipments ? The article says that parents have to find the school that best match the kid s talent. How do you identify talent in a 6 years old kid ? Talent in solution solving. Talent in singing ? Talent in cooking ? Is there a test. Does it consist in 300 activities to be done over a week ? The truth is that parents who think that their kid has talent or is gifted are people with a lot of imagination … The important is to let kids play, run , discover the world argue and fight with minimal intervention. This is how you grow build values and learn about yourself. Another thing: being bored is the first step towards creativity. Humm i havr nothing to do. I am bored what shall i do. Yeah. I am going to play with this wooden stick and build a magic spacecraft with it cool. Let alone that the parents will happily be free while the kid roams around the aparment looking for his next imaginary game.
      Another thing : let your kids playing outside it will help them not to wear glasses. Last thing. Expensive fencing classes are available in a no window shopping center at 50 sgd per hour per kid. Football is available in your next door park at 50 sgd ( the ball) per year per 10 kids… Paying expensive does not. Mean doing the best thing with your kid. Sometimes you havr to do the right thing. For example teaching yourself math to your kid at least until he is 15. If you can t do it then how do you expect him to do it. If you think you do not have time isn t there something very wrong in your life. Yet another thing : having a helper is bad. Very bad. You give your kid the feeling that some people are inferior. If you really can t do without a helper you must give her the same power as what you have. She either cleans or takes care of the kids. Not both. And if you can slap your kid then she should be allowed to do the same. Else again you ll spoil him in a very negative way. This is all but not related to the scholl you put your kid in. This is actually not important until he starts to be able to think on his own ( around 12 years old ).

      • 27/05/2013 at

        Hi Jerome, thank you for taking the time to pen your comment here. I do agree with you that children should spend more time outdoors, that they should solve their creativity through play (although technology sometimes present a challenge to parents).

        I think primary schools lay the foundation for most kids and it is the secondary school that is MORE important and relevant to look at in terms of a match for the child. But our local education is such that we (the parents, the children, even MOE) are caught in a conundrum where no immediate solution is in sight.

        You say that parents who think their kids have talent or gifted are people with imagination. I think these parents are believers – they believe in the potential of their children – latent or otherwise. They believe in nurturing that potential – which as you have pointed out may or may not show in the child at age 6, although I have seen some kids whose talents are quite apparent at that age. This potential needs to be honed from a young age, otherwise the child may never fulfil that potential. Is it the right thing to do? Who knows? Every generation of parents make mistakes or the right choices based on the assumptions of belief. Some work out and some don’t. Parents just want to make sure they have given their children every edge they can have in an increasingly competitive and fast-moving world.

        Thank you again for your comments. I hope you will continue to visit this site and share with us your views.

  • 28/09/2012 at

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