Parliament: Fewer than half of students in top schools now from 'non-elite' primary schools: Ang Wei Neng

Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng spoke in Parliament about bridging the gap between people from "elite" and "non-elite" school backgrounds.
Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng spoke in Parliament about bridging the gap between people from "elite" and "non-elite" school backgrounds.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Fewer than half of the students in top schools Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls' School now come from "non-elite" primary schools, down from around two-thirds about 30 years ago, said Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC).

He gave this estimate on Monday (May 14), when he spoke in Parliament about bridging the gap between people from "elite" and "non-elite" school backgrounds.

He then called on the Education Ministry to share the figures publicly.

Citing the Raffles example, Mr Ang said both schools had recruited from a large base of primary schools based on students' merits 30 years ago.

While they still take in students from roughly the same number of primary schools, the proportion of those from "non-elite" primary schools seems to have shrunk, he added.

Mr Ang quoted the immediate past principal of Raffles Institution, who previously admitted that it is now a "middle-class" school catering to the affluent segment of the Singapore's population.

He agreed with the principal's point that examinations like the Primary School Leaving Education (PSLE) are no longer the level playing fields they once were, as wealthier families can give their children an edge through tuition and enrichment.

"The concern is that the haves, with their connections and advantages, get more and more economic, social and cultural capital, while the have-nots struggle to even get a leg in the game even if they work hard from the start. Is Singapore meritocratic?" asked Mr Ang, who noted that a good number of MPs in the House, including himself, had humble family backgrounds.

To address concerns about an uneven playing field that favours students from richer families, he suggested having principals of "non-elite" primary schools nominate one deserving student each to enter a top secondary school.

This student should have the intellect, temperament and potential to go to a top school, he said, adding that he or she may also come from a disadvantaged background.

Such students could also receive additional financial and mentorship help, said Mr Ang.

Apart from encouraging diversity in schools, Mr Ang talked about how housing policy can help to mitigate the social divide between people living in public and private housing as well.

He noted that the Ministry of National Development "has a policy of reserving land just beside MRT stations for private housing", so as to allow it to be tendered out and sold at a market rate reflecting its true value.

This has "unintended side effects", he said, referring to Jurong as an example where private housing beside an MRT station has blocked the direct path between it and a nearby public housing estate.

This can be rectified, he noted, by tweaking policy to mandate that developers maintain a public passageway between the station and estate in such cases.

"I will like to urge the government to urgently tackle the issue of class-based divides with the same intent, purpose and vigorous as we took in the past, in ensuring racial and religious harmony... as known by ordinary Singaporeans," he said.