Ask Sandra: Q&A on volunteering tackled

Do you have a question about Primary One registration, PSLE, post-secondary education or anything related to education in Singapore? Email them to, put Ask Sandra as the subject, and include your name, age, gender and contact details. Our Senior Education Correspondent will answer them in this new weekly column called Ask Sandra.

Q: I volunteered at a popular primary school so that my child would get priority for Primary 1 registration. Now that my daughter has secured a place, I intend to stop volunteering. But the principal asked if both my husband and I would like to join the parents' support group. I am in two minds about it. What would your advice be? Is there any value in it?

A: My advice would be for you to get involved. Research overseas and locally has shown that the more parents are involved in their children's education, the better their children perform in school.

Studies have found that children whose parents are more involved enjoy school more and have better school attendance. They are also more emotionally and socially well adjusted and better able to handle stress.

Similarly, studies have shown that children with involved fathers are better academic achievers and have better numeracy and verbal skills.

A National Institute of Education (NIE) study of 150 high-income couples, done 14 years ago, found that it was not money, but parents' active engagement in their children's education, which made a difference in how well their children performed in school.

A National Institute of Education study of 150 high-income couples, done 14 years ago, found that it was not money, but active engagement in their children's education, which made a difference in how well their children performed in school.

NIE lecturer Lana Khong Yiu Lan, who did the study, found that children whose parents did not leave everything to tutors, or who gave up their jobs for their offspring's sake, often did well in examinations.

Such parents were often seen in or around school, trying to stay informed about the latest developments in education from the principal and other parents. They also chatted with neighbours whose children have good grades, seeking their advice on tutors and what enrichment programmes their children should take.

Dr Khong chose to study high-income families because she wanted to see how well-educated parents in the top 20 per cent of earners allocated resources and time to their children's education.

Her aim was to find out whether the way in which they helped their children could be applied to the less well-off.

She concluded that the most important ingredients for good school performance are family involvement, sacrifice and awareness of educational matters.

So children of less well-off parents who put in the same effort should not feel deprived in any way.

Parents can use community libraries and subsidised tuition programmes run by community self-help groups to give their children that extra edge.

All parents should also spend quality and quantity time with their children to build good relationships with them. This will go a long way in helping their children.

There are many simple, everyday things that parents can do to become more engaged in their children's learning.

For a start, parents can ask their children about their day in school. This signals to the children that their parents are interested in their schooling and think that it is important.

Unfortunately, the only thing that some parents inquire about is their children's scores in school tests or exams.

At home, parents can provide an environment that encourages learning. Parents should also ensure that children have some quiet time, without the TV and other distractions, to complete their homework.

Parents are also advised to visit the school early in the year to meet the teachers and principal so that they can establish a mutual relationship of respect and trust. They should do so proactively rather than waiting till their children perform poorly or misbehave.

Education experts also suggest that parents make friends with other parents. The parental grapevine is very useful for sharing information and ideas.

And one of the best things that any parent can do is to become a volunteer in school.

A mother's or father's presence in school conveys an important message to the child about the value placed on schooling.

Being in school also gives parents a good understanding of what the school community is like, the specific context that their children operate in every day, and the challenges that teachers face.

But if being in school is not possible because of work or other commitments, parents can look for other ways to help from home, such as editing the school newsletter.

Q: My son is sitting his O-level examination, while my daughter is in Primary 5. I have taken leave for a whole month to be with my kids through the examination period.

I had also thought of buying my son a new mobile phone if he does well, but my husband feels I shouldn't have to resort to bribing him.

How can I best support them and encourage them to work hard?

A: One of the best ways to ease the stress for your children during exam time is to make home life as calm and pleasant as possible.

Help them decide on a fixed area at home where they can study with the least distraction. Make sure they have everything they need - pens, pencils, highlighters and cards for creating revision notes. Unless they are using the computer for revision, turn it off.

Work out a revision timetable with them. You need a plan that is realistic and that they can stick to.

For most children, concentration falls off after half an hour or one hour. So break revision time into chunks with short breaks at the end of each session.

Encourage your children to get their notes in order for each subject before starting on the revision. Having notes organised into topics for each subject may be helpful.

For your younger child, you may want to go through school notes with her or listen while she revises a topic. If she is struggling with a topic or question, ask her to note it down and seek her teacher's help.

Encourage your children to set targets for each day and tick them off as your children achieve them. This will build confidence and lessen anxiety.

If your children are given study leave in the run-up to exams, try to be at home as much as possible, so you can ensure they keep to their schedule and take enough breaks in between.

Make sure there are plenty of healthy snacks in the fridge and try to provide nutritious meals.

Encourage your children to join family meals. It is important to have a change of scene. Also, encourage them to take breaks, say, walking with you to the supermarket. It helps to clear their minds before the next revision session.

Check the dates of each exam and keep a record of them somewhere you can see easily.

It is important for your children to get a good night's sleep before an exam, so discourage them from staying up late.

Make a final check each morning before they leave home, so they are fully prepared for the day's exams. For instance, check that they have packed writing instruments, along with other requirements such as calculators.

After each exam, your children may want to talk about the paper, especially if they feel anxious. Be positive and encourage them. Let them know you appreciate their effort and will be there to support them, regardless of how they performed in the exams.

You asked about giving gifts to encourage your children to do well.

Motivational psychology experts have advised that this is the wrong tactic if you want your children to take responsibility for their own learning.

In an interview with The Sunday Times a few years ago, Dr Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester in the United States, noted that if a parent were to say "I will give you this if you achieve all As", the child is likely to do it for that reward.

It also means that, subsequently, the child will think the only reason to learn is to get the reward.

This puts the responsibility for learning on the parent, as the parent is the one who has to monitor the child, instead of a child assimilating and internalising the value of learning and hard work.

Dr Ryan said it would be better if a parent, after a child does well, suggests celebrating the good results over a meal at the child's favourite restaurant.

And what if a child does not deliver straight As?

Dr Ryan advises parents to acknowledge that, given the way examinations are marked, not every child can be at the very top, and to continue supporting their child.

Studies have shown that success in life is more likely related to feeling a sense of confidence and security that comes from parents, who support their child through successes and setbacks, rather than just doing well in examinations.

Q: If there are more applicants than places in Phase 2C, do Singaporeans living outside a 2km radius get priority over permanent residents living within 2km of the school?

A: All children with Singapore citizenship will be admitted first in Phase 2C, which is for those with no links to schools. The remaining vacancies, if any, will then be allocated to permanent residents based on the proximity of their homes to the school. Balloting will be required if the number of citizens applying exceeds the number of places in that phase.

Q: Looks like the school I will be registering my child in will have to conduct balloting for Phase 2C. How is the priority scheme applied in case of balloting?

A: If the number of applications exceeds the number of places and balloting is required, priority will be given in this order: children who are citizens living within 1km of the school; citizens living between 1km and 2km away; citizens living outside 2km; permanent residents (PRs) living within 1km; PRs living between 1km and 2km away; and PRs living outside 2km.

Q: I am aware of the new 30-month rule but I live in a rental property. My lease expires in a year and I am not sure whether the landlord will renew it. Can I still use the address to register my child?

A: Under the new rule that starts this year, children have to live at the address used for registration for at least 30 months from the start of the Primary 1 registration exercise.

You should make arrangements to extend your lease accordingly, such that your child lives at the address for at least 30 months from July 2.

If this rule is not met, the Ministry of Education may transfer your child to another school.

Q: I am registering my twins for Primary 1 this year. If there is balloting, what happens if one gets in and the other does not? Or will they be balloted together?

A: Yes, if there is balloting, your twins will be allotted one number. If it is picked, both your children will be admitted to the school.

Q: What if I register my child in a school on the first day of Phase 2C and then change my mind? Can I withdraw the earlier application and try another school?

A: Yes, you can. To register your child in another school under Phase 2C, you need to withdraw your application in person from the first school and then proceed to your other school of choice to register. Both parents’ identity cards have to be produced at the schools.

Q: My child is not a citizen or PR. Can I register my child in a local school during the ongoing Primary 1 registration exercise?

A: Yes, you can register your child under Phase 3. But you should note that admission is not guaranteed as there are limited places left after places are allocated to children who are citizens and PRs.

Below are questions answered in the July 20 column

Q: There is an enhanced SingPass now. Can I still register my child for Primary 1 online if I do not complete the new SingPass one-time account setup?

A: From last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been allowing parents to use the Primary One Internet System to register their children during Phase 2C – the fifth of seven stages of the registration exercise for children with no links to the school – and 2C Supplementary – for children who have not secured a spot after Phase 2C.

They have to use their SingPass – an account that enables users to access government services online – to do so. From July 5, the SingPass has been enhanced to better protect about 200 e-services, such as those dealing with personal, financial or health data, from 70 government agencies.

Parents who intend to register their children online should update their enhanced SingPass before the start of online registration for Phase 2C on July 28. The account update can be done at Parents who have not done so will be prompted to do so during their child’s online registration.

They can then either complete the account update or skip the account setup (by choosing the “Do not have mobile number” option) and continue to register their child using the online system.

Parents who do not wish to make an online registration can continue to go to their school of choice for registration.

Q: If a school has to move to a temporary site, which address will be used to determine the distance between the school and the home to decide on priority in the Primary 1 registration exercise?

A: If a school receives more applications than its number of available places, it will need to allocate spots by giving priority to citizens and those who live nearer to the school.

If the school moves to a holding site while waiting for its permanent site to be upgraded or rebuilt, the permanent site will be used to determine the distance.

Q: My child was born on Jan 1, 2010. Can I choose to register him next year instead of this year?

A: Under the Compulsory Education Act, children born between Jan 2, 2009 and Jan 1, 2010 (including both dates) must register this year, for entry to Primary 1 next year.

If you feel your child is not ready and would like to defer his entry into Primary 1, you have to write in to MOE’s Compulsory Education Unit for approval.

Q: My child was born on Jan 5, 2010 and is gifted. Can I register him this year for Primary 1, since children born on Jan 1, just a few days before his date of birth, are asked to register this year?

A: No. The MOE adheres strictly to the policy of admitting children when they are at least six years old on Jan 1 in the year of admission to Primary 1.

Q: I was divorced recently. Do I need to produce my divorce certificate and child custody order when I register my child?

A: Yes. You will need to produce the relevant documents.

Below are questions answered in the July 13 column

Q: I am going to register my child in a school under Phase 2A2 next week. However, my first choice is another school, which he qualifies for under Phase 2B.

Balloting was conducted at the school of my first choice in Phase 2B in previous years for those living more than 2km away. 

I intend to register my child under Phase 2A2 first.

When Phase 2B opens and there is a chance that he can get in without balloting, I intend to withdraw the registration at the earlier school and register him for the second one.

Should I do this?

A: Phase 2A2, the third of the seven stages of the Primary 1 registration exercise, is for children whose parents or siblings were former pupils of their school of choice.

The next stage, Phase 2B, is for children whose parents are volunteers at the school and those who have church and clan connections with the school.

A child can be registered in only one school at any point of the Primary 1 registration exercise.

But if you change your mind, you may withdraw an earlier application to register at another school.

However, I would not recommend this. You have to consider the fact that your child has already secured a place in the earlier phase, while he may be subject to balloting at the second school, especially if it is a popular one.

Q: I travel frequently in my job and mixed up the registration dates and phases, and forgot to register my child under Phase 2A1. What should I do?

A: Phase 2A1 is for children whose parents are alumni association members.

You will have to register your child in the next stage, Phase 2A2, for children whose parents or siblings were former pupils of their school of choice.

This starts today and ends tomorrow. Your child will participate in the exercise together with the other children who register under the same phase. 

No priority will be given to your child even though you are a member of the alumni association while other parents may not be.

Q: I am picking a Christian mission school for my child because I feel it would teach him the correct values. But I also feel that the school should prepare him well for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). How do I check the academic performance of the pupils in a primary school?

A: If PSLE achievements are important to you, ask the school about the number of pupils who made it to the Express and Normal streams. This number points to how well the school’s pupils fared in the PSLE.

I would advise you to ask the school head about his educational philosophy and see if it squares with your own views on what is important in education. It may also be useful to check the worksheets prepared by teachers to see if creativity and independent thinking are encouraged. 

If your child is gifted in mathematics or the arts, ask about the school’s enrichment programmes in these areas. 

Get in touch with the parents’ support group and ask its members about their experiences.

Q: I am a full-time working mother and my sister takes care of my daughter. Can I use her home address to register my daughter in the Primary 1 registration exercise?

A: Yes, but a statutory declaration is required.

Both you and your husband must be working full time and your sister must not be employed and must be providing full-time care for your daughter. 

Children who apply using a statutory declaration and live within 1km or between 1km and 2km of the school of choice have the same chances of getting a place in the school during a ballot as other children of the same citizenship residing within 1km or between 1km and 2km of the school.

Q: I own a house which I rent out. My two children and I currently live with my parents. Which address should I use to register my child for Primary 1?

A: The address used should be your official residential address stated in your identity card. 

This address will be used to determine the distance between the home and the school when considering priority in admissions. 

Priority is given with the expectation that the family will reside at this address for the duration of the child’s primary school studies, as it is for the convenience and interest of the child. 

Please note that, this year, a new rule has been introduced for those who gain priority admission to schools based on distance. 

They have to live at the address used for registration for at least 30 months from the start of the Primary 1 registration exercise. 

Those with a yet-to-be-completed property also have to live at the new address for as long, but this can start only from when they move in and not from the start of the registration exercise, subject to certain limits.

The Ministry of Education did not set any specific time period previously. If this new condition is not met, the ministry may transfer the child to another school.

Below are questions answered in the July 6 column

Q: I want to register my child in a top primary school, but my husband feels that our son may be better off in a neighbourhood school, because he has heard of the “big fish little pond” effect. How real is the effect?

A: The “big fish, little pond effect” suggests that children may actually do better in a less popular – or what researchers term a “less selective” – school. 

Research into that effect suggests parents should focus on getting their child into a school that will boost his confidence in his academic ability.

Children are likely to accomplish more, be more persistent and have higher aspirations if they feel competent in what they do, are confident and feel positively about themselves.

A child’s confidence depends not only on his own accomplishments but also on the relative accomplishments of his classmates and schoolmates. 

This means children who view themselves as of low or average ability will get a confidence booster if they attend an average-performance school.

The reverse is likely to be the case in a high-achieving school. Parents should think about whether their child would thrive in a competitive environment or feel stressed out and anxious. 

Every year, some parents ask for my advice on transfers, because their children are suffering from what psychologists describe as “school refusal”. 

Such children may complain of headaches or stomach aches just before it is time to leave for school.

Q: I have just moved to Ang Mo Kio. How do I find out which schools are within 1 km and 2km of my home?

A: You can view the list of primary schools in Ang Mo Kio on the Ministry of Education’s Primary 1 registration website.

Parents can also check the home-school distance category from the OneMap SchoolQuery Service managed by the Singapore Land Authority, or check with the schools directly.

E-mail your questions to Specify Ask Sandra as the subject and include your name, age, gender and contact details.