Stricter Primary 1 priority rules for grassroots workers

A teacher at Cantonment Primary School getting her students to queue up on the first day of the school term on Jan 4, 2011. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
A teacher at Cantonment Primary School getting her students to queue up on the first day of the school term on Jan 4, 2011. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Parents who become grassroots volunteers in the hope of getting priority for their children in the Primary 1 registration exercise will have to serve twice as long as before. They will have to do at least two years of grassroots work, not one, to qualify for the benefit.

They will also be restricted to schools in the constituency where they live. Up to now, grassroots leaders could get priority for their children in schools near their homes as well as in the constituencies where they volunteered.

The changes, which will affect children registering for Primary 1 in 2016 and later, were announced by the People's Association (PA) in a circular sent in April, a copy of which was obtained by The Straits Times.

Signed by Mr Ang Hak Seng, the PA's chief executive director, and addressed to advisers of its grassroots organisations and mayors of the Community Development Councils, it said the PA had reviewed the scheme and felt it was still "relevant" in promoting collaboration between schools and the community.

But the changes were made to ensure that only "deserving" grassroots leaders and district councillors would benefit.

The scheme qualifies active grassroots volunteers for Phase 2B of the Primary 1 registration exercise, which also includes parents who are school volunteers or have church or clan associations. Earlier phases of the registration are for siblings of current pupils or children of past pupils.

About 400 children enrol in primary schools under the active community leaders scheme each year, less than 1 per cent of the Primary 1 cohort, according to a parliamentary reply by the Education Ministry last year.

But long-time grassroots leaders say it is not uncommon to see a surge in the number of people who apply to be community leaders a year before their child is due to register for Primary 1.

Lawyer Kenneth Au-Yong, a member of the Ulu Pandan citizens' consultative committee who is in his 50s, said: "When you have a popular school within the constituency, volunteers will come to you. You don't have to look for them."

The Ulu Pandan division under the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC has four popular primary schools: Henry Park Primary, Nanyang Primary, Methodist Girls' School and Raffles Girls' Primary School.

Mr Au-Yong said he has seen parents dropping out of activities and grassroots meetings once their children start school. "We should not allow the system to be abused like this."

Parents whose children will register in 2016 for primary education and who wish to join the scheme will have to be appointed as grassroots leaders in various grassroots organisations and district councillors of the five Community Development Councils by June 30.

leepearl@sph.com.sg