Stories of poor students who make good and enter top schools may be harder to come by these days, but the Ministry of Education (MOE) has put in place initiatives to ensure that every child is given the resources to succeed, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said.
While rich parents can send their children to more tuition classes which may translate into better exam scores, the education system here is one that ensures even the less privileged children are not deprived of opportunities, he said.
"I will say that we are probably one of the very few systems where if a child has the ability, he will not be held back because there were no opportunities," he said, citing subsidised support programmes that self-help groups such as Sinda and the Chinese Development Assistance Council provide as an example.
Mr Heng added that well-educated and well-resourced parents are able to give their children a head start in their early childhood years. But his ministry will work to ensure that children who are not born to such environments are not left out.
"I cannot stop parents (from doing that) but I can have MOE kindergartens where I can hire good teachers to help our kids so that they don't lose out," he said.
The MOE-run kindergartens, a pilot started last year, place strong emphasis on bilingualism and children are exposed to both English and their mother-tongue languages daily.
Mr Heng's remarks come after Raffles Institution (RI) principal Chan Poh Meng made a hard-hitting speech on how the school now largely caters to the affluent segment of the population and is at risk of becoming insular.
Mr Heng, an old boy of RI, said the broader message of Mr Chan's speech was about gratitude.
"Students who have had the opportunity to study in RI, and indeed any of our schools, should give back to the community, and feel grateful for the opportunities they've been given," he said.
Mr Heng added that these messages apply not only to RI, but also to all schools here.
"The broader message is quite in line with our focus on character and citizenship education and our values-in-action programme. So I hope the discourse is not about one or two schools," he said.
Initiatives are in place to ensure that schools do not become closed circles, Mr Heng added. For example, in the Primary 1 registration exercise, 40 places must be allocated to children with no ties to a school. There is also the independent school bursary scheme, which offers subsidies to low-income students in independent schools.
"We are expanding opportunities right across the system. There are many opportunities for everyone regardless of their strengths, interests and pace of learning, because we have such diversified pathways," he said.