Is reserving one-fifth of places in affiliated secondary schools for pupils who do not benefit from affiliation priority a fair move?
On Tuesday, Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced that the quota will be implemented in 2019 to ensure that there will be open access to schools for all pupils, regardless of their backgrounds or connections.
Most parents whom The Straits Times spoke to, as well as ST readers who gave feedback online, say that the 20 per cent figure is a step in the right direction.
However, some parents of pupils in affiliated primary schools worry that their children will now have to face more competition to secure a place in a secondary school using affiliation priority, even as other parents of those without affiliation see the move as a a way to give all pupils equal opportunities.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said that most secondary schools already meet the quota, meaning there would not be significant change for most pupils. But every year, between six and eight schools have a higher proportion of affiliated students.
How affiliation system works
There are 27 secondary schools here that are affiliated to primary schools with links to religious and clan associations.
Pupils from these primary schools usually face lower academic requirements to get into the affiliated secondary school. How much lower depends on the school, but this is also subject to the Ministry of Education's approval.
This system has been criticised on several fronts. Not only is it unfair to pupils from non-affiliated schools, but it also sees parents chasing places in affiliated primary schools.
In 2013, the cut-off point for pupils from Nanyang Primary entering Nanyang Girls' High the next year was 251, compared with 261 for pupils from other primary schools.
At Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary, the cut-off score for affiliated pupils was 200, and 229 for those who were not affiliated.
Before 2012, no minimum cut-off score was imposed on pupils from Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School who wished to join the Express stream in the affiliated secondary school. Some pupils posted to the stream had T-scores as low as 187.
Mr Gavin Foo, 40, whose daughter is in Primary 1 at Singapore Chinese Girls' School (SCGS), is worried that this will "throw a spanner in the works" for parents like him, who put in much effort to get their children into a primary school with affiliation priority.
He volunteered for more than 40 hours with SCGS so his daughter could enrol this year via Phase 2B of the Primary 1 registration exercise, which is reserved for children whose parents are volunteers and those who have church and clan connections with the school.
Mr Foo, who works in private equity, said that the quota may affect his daughter's chances of moving up to SCGS' secondary section.
Currently, the entry scores for affiliated and non-affiliated pupils at some schools can vary by as much as 40 points. Schools can set the minimum entry standards, subject to MOE approval, for affiliated pupils. These are usually lower than the standards that non-affiliated pupils have to meet.
A parent with sons in Primary 2 and 6 at Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), who wanted to be known only as Mrs Lim, 47, feared that the new rule could dilute the school's culture. The sales director also pointed out that it may prevent pupils from affiliated schools who are academically weaker from joining the school, including those with special needs and disabilities.
Parents like Madam Nazlin Hilal, 39, however, cheered the move, calling it the right step towards giving all pupils equal opportunities.
"I've heard of parents who do volunteer work just to get their children into affiliated primary schools and I don't think it is a healthy trend," said Madam Nazlin, who is self-employed and has two sons in Primary 1 and 6 attending Tampines Primary School.
Both Madam Nazlin and housewife Josephine Lee, 41, hope that the 20 per cent quota will be gradually increased over time so that affiliated pupils do not enjoy such a generous advantage.
Madam Lee, who has a son in Primary 3 in Angsana Primary School, said: "It's unfair that those with connections to the school can get in with lower scores."
National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said that the new policy is a "symbolic move" towards the national ideal of meritocracy, but doubts that affiliation can be completely done away with in the short term, given that the practice has a long history.