All schools, including popular ones, should remain open to children of all social and racial backgrounds and not become closed communities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
While it is important to have strong identities, schools like those in the Nanyang family must also make an extra effort to remain accessible, he told an audience of 3,400 at a gala dinner marking the 100th anniversary of the Nanyang family of schools. The schools are Nanyang Kindergarten, Nanyang Primary School and Nanyang Girls' High School (NYGH).
PM Lee, who attended the first two schools, encouraged schools like those in the Nanyang family to get their students to interact with others of different races and social backgrounds. He said: "As (SAP schools), Nanyang (Primary and NYGH) should purposefully reach out to non-Chinese communities, and expose (their) students to the richness of our multiracial society.
"Only then can the students grow up understanding the broader context of Singapore society, while acquiring a strong grounding in Chinese culture and values."
Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools focus on students being bilingual in English and Chinese.
In his speech, PM Lee noted that the pupil profile at Nanyang Primary is quite different and "less varied", compared with 60 years ago.
He recounted how the school bus he took home every day would travel all over town and visit many working-class neighbourhoods to drop pupils off.
Today, most Primary 1 pupils are admitted based on some past or present association with the school. Most students also have parents who are professionals.
The change has happened not only at Nanyang but at other popular schools too, he noted. This is why the Education Ministry (MOE) changed Primary 1 admission rules in 2014. All primary schools must set aside 40 places for children with no connections to the school.
PM Lee also cited schemes to ensure Nanyang students stay connected to the wider society.
For instance, all Secondary 2 NYGH students are required to do projects with community groups.
Primary school pupils also regularly visit hawker centres to remind members of the public to return their food trays.
The Nanyang schools now also have very good facilities, which PM Lee credited to the dedicated fund-raising efforts by the alumni, parents, teachers, school board and management committee.
These include former education minister Ong Pang Boon, who was vice-chairman of the board until 2008 and is still on the board.
NYGH also owes a lot to its late principal Liew Yuen Sien, who was the grandmother of Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, said PM Lee. The late Madam Liew believed every girl had a right to education, and was determined to make NYGH an outstanding school, he said in Mandarin.
PM Lee also highlighted the late Madam Ling Siew May, the wife of the late president Ong Teng Cheong, calling her the "prime mover" behind the new secondary school campus in Linden Drive.
"She raised funds for it, designed it, and oversaw its construction herself, even when she was very ill."
He added: "As an alumnus, I am very proud of Nanyang... But from the national point of view, we want every school to be a good school."
This is why the Government staffs every school with dedicated teachers and principals, supports them with resources and facilities, and encourages each school to build its own special programmes and identity, he said.
PM Lee said he was pleased to see this year's 71 Public Service Commission scholars coming from a good spread of primary schools - 48 schools from all over Singapore, including many neighbourhood ones.
"When MOE says that 'every school is a good school', it is an aspiration, but there's also truth in it," he said. "Every school can be special in its own way, and every student can be proud of his or her school," he added, congratulating the Nanyang family on its centenary.