MP Denise Phua calls for greater flexibility in allocating places for foreigners

Ms Phua said the intent to curb foreign student numbers is good but "a blunt cookie-cutter solution" may not be the best.
Ms Phua said the intent to curb foreign student numbers is good but "a blunt cookie-cutter solution" may not be the best.

Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, says more foreign residents who cannot get a place for their children in local schools have come to her asking for help.

She understands why there may be a need to restrict the number of international students in public schools, although she also urged more flexibility. "I believe the intent to curb the numbers is good - to be more conservative in the allocation of what is a costly and quality public resource such as education; and possibly to respond to Singaporeans' general call for a bigger local core," she said.

Associate Professor Jason Tan, an education policy expert at the National Institute of Education, agreed, saying: "There's the worry that once the numbers of foreigners in some schools cross a critical mass, it might change linguistic and social interactions.

"Local schools are still key common spaces to nurture Singaporean identity and citizenship."

But Ms Phua noted that "a blunt cookie-cutter solution" may not be the best, as some of these foreigners have technical skills that Singapore needs for the economy. "Some have been residing and contributing for a number of years now. Many cannot afford the private schools," she said.

There needs to be "a more aligned and transparent handshake among government agencies to ensure we are not tripping over one another in admitting the required foreign labour and supporting them and their families whilst they are here".

Prof Tan also said: "It's a delicate issue - some of these parents play an important role in our labour force, and Singapore may need some of their children to stay on and be integrated into society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'MP calls for greater flexibility in allocating places for foreigners'. Print Edition | Subscribe