Enough Primary 1 places for all: Education Minister Heng Swee Keat

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking to over 2,000 primary school teachers at the Primary School Education seminar held at Republic Polytechnic on July 10 2013. With a new phase of Primary 1 registration starting today and places at popular sch
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking to over 2,000 primary school teachers at the Primary School Education seminar held at Republic Polytechnic on July 10 2013. With a new phase of Primary 1 registration starting today and places at popular schools filling up quicker this year than before, the Education Minister yesterday sought to assure anxious parents that there are enough places for everyone. -- ST FILE PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

MOE monitoring registration closely; too early to say if there will be changes

With a new phase of Primary 1 registration starting today and places at popular schools filling up quicker this year than before, the Education Minister yesterday sought to assure anxious parents that there are enough places for everyone.

Mr Heng Swee Keat said the Ministry of Education (MOE) is also monitoring Primary 1 registration closely, but it is too early to say if changes will be made to the system.

"Every year, at the end of the Primary 1 registration, we conduct a review to see what needs to be done. It is too early for us to make any announcement at this point," Mr Heng said in reply to questions from the media after he visited the Nee Soon East ward yesterday.

"I would like to assure parents that we have enough school places... in every key neighbourhood, there will be enough schools for every child."

His comments come as Phase 2A2 of Primary 1 registration starts today, which gives priority to children of alumni who have not joined the alumni association and for school staff.

Although barely at the midway point of Primary 1 registration this year, more than half of the places in 28 schools have already been taken up, which means more parents will have to go through balloting to secure a place for their child.

Phase 1 gives priority to a child with a sibling studying in the school, and Phase 2A1, those with parents who have been in the alumni association for at least a year.

This year, after these two phases ended, popular schools such as Ai Tong, Henry Park, Nanyang Primary and St Nicholas Girls' have only a third of their places left, prompting calls from parents to review the priority for alumni.

Aside from the Primary 1 registration issue, Mr Heng, who is leading the Our Singapore Conversation effort, said he is "very pleased" with the progress of the national dialogue in which some 46,000 Singaporeans have taken part. The feedback is being organised into broad themes, some of which may make it to the National Day Rally speech next month.

Earlier, Mr Heng spent the morning visiting Nee Soon East ward and holding a dialogue with some 350 residents at the community club.

Accompanied by Nee Soon GRC MPs Lee Bee Wah, Lim Wee Kiak, Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Patrick Tay, Mr Heng visited coffee shops and participated in a mass exercise.

During the dialogue, education issues dominated, and aside from the issue of primary schools, residents also raised questions on meritocracy, teachers abusing pupils, facilities for the elderly and public transport services in Nee Soon.

Fresh university graduate Tong Sian Choo, 26, asked if Mr Heng was worried about the closures of high-profile foreign graduate schools such as the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, whose last batch of students will graduate in 2015.

Such schools were brought in by the Economic Development Board and have to be commercially viable, replied Mr Heng.

But he added that graduates should not worry about postgraduate studies because local universities have successful tie-ups with foreign ones.

At yesterday's walkabout, Mr Tay announced that the community club will be upgraded with new facilities over the next two years at a cost of $5 million to $7 million.

The club roped in students and residents to shovel earth at the ground-breaking ceremony yesterday, doing away with the usual practice of MPs having the honour.

Bryan Ho, 15, a student leader at Northbrooks Secondary, said: "It definitely makes me feel even closer to the Nee Soon community, even though I don't live here."

tohyc@sph.com.sg