Forum: Work on solutions to problem of unpaid school fees

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that withholding a pupil's original PSLE results slip is a last resort if parents still accumulate arrears, even after steps such as getting them to apply for financial help have been taken. Every year, about 2 per
Students from Zhenghua Primary School collect their PSLE results on Nov 21, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

I thank Education Minister Ong Ye Kung for stating his position on the practice of withholding Primary School Leaving Examination result slips (MOE to complete review of practice of withholding results slips by Nov, Jan 7).

He acknowledged that the current practice "may not be fully effective in urging all parents to pay miscellaneous fees". He also accepted "the feedback that the child who receives a copy of his results slip instead of the original may feel awkward or embarrassed", and does "not want the children to bear responsibility for the arrears accumulated by their parents".

These seem to be very clear indications that this practice is not only ineffective in achieving its goal, but also hurts children's feelings. Why, then, does the Ministry of Education (MOE) still need to review this practice?

Instead, I suggest MOE work on the solutions. First, after warning or otherwise penalising the parents, MOE could write off these unpaid fees as bad debts like other private organisations. After all, it is only 2 per cent of the Primary 6 cohort who accumulate arrears and do not apply for financial assistance from MOE.

Second, find out the root causes of why such families are not able to pay such a small sum. I don't believe they are out to challenge or test MOE; they may be in more serious financial difficulty. Activate the relevant community partners to help these families if this is the case.

Third, waive school fees for children from specific backgrounds, such as those already on financial assistance or those staying in one-room rental flats.

Tay Yong Hung

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline 'Work on solutions to problem of unpaid school fees'. Print Edition | Subscribe