Time to scrap priority admission for kids of alumni

The PSLE and resources dedicated to the lower-income and less academically inclined students were two issues raised in the recent debate on inequality (Move beyond focus on grades to embrace skills: Ong Ye Kung; July 12).

But why is the Primary School Leaving Examination a problem in terms of creating undue stress among parents and pupils?

The underlying issue is that it is a high-stakes examination, not only in terms of placing students into the Express or Normal streams, but also in its use as an entry standard to secondary schools.

The truth is that many parents want their children to enter prestigious secondary schools for non-pedagogical benefits - a network of relationships formed by mixing with students with higher academic scores and who are likely to do well in life, or the perceived lustre of graduating from one of Singapore's top schools.

We cannot deny that a network of contacts from the same alma mater matters. This is precisely why there are many primary schools which require balloting for entry every year.

Such networks can entrench inequality if the barriers to entry are unfair or unmeritocratic.

One way to improve meritocracy is to scrap the alumni priority entrance for primary schools, especially for those with affiliated secondary schools, because it allows for a more lenient standard of entry into some of Singapore's more prestigious secondary schools.

It is clear that there are many stakeholders with conflicting interests when it comes to this issue, not least the schools, which benefit from support and donations from a close-knit alumni network.

But we must address the clearly unmeritocratic practice of giving children whose parents are alumni priority admission into primary schools.

This longstanding practice ought to be scrapped entirely and replaced with something else.

Grace Lim Kor Lei (Ms)