SINGAPORE - Another 10,000 students will be eligible for financial help from the government, bringing the total number to around 90,000 a year with the Education Ministry relaxing its qualifying criteria.
Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced in Parliament on Monday (March 5) that the gross household monthly income cap will be raised from $2,500 to $2,750, and the per capita income ceiling will go up from $625 to $690. Junior college and pre-university students who need financial aid will also get a bursary of $900, up from the current $750.
These changes to the financial assistance scheme, which also covers costs of textbooks, uniforms and transport, will kick in from April, and will benefit about 6,000 more Singaporean students. Secondary school students under the School Meals Programme will also be given 10 meals per school week, up from the current seven, said Mr Ng during the debate on his ministry's budget. More middle-income families will also get higher fee subsidies when the income criterion for the Independent School Bursary is also revised from April.
These initiatives will cost the Government close to $100 million per year, he added.
Several MPs - Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC), Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) and Mr Edwin Tong (Marine Parade GRC) - had asked about financial support for students in schools.
In response, Mr Ng said that education in Singapore is heavily subsidised at all levels, and MOE is "committed to providing quality and affordable education to all Singapore citizens regardless of their financial circumstances".
Primary school pupils will also receive $30 more in their Edusave accounts from next January, with secondary school students getting $50 more.
"With this increase, students can participate in more activities, such as creative writing programmes and learning journeys, to broaden their learning experiences," said Mr Ng.
In response to Ms Sylvia Lim, Senior Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary said that MOE tracks the progress of all students especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds "very closely".
Ms Lim had asked how the Government measures social mobility, noting that other countries like Britain have developed a "dashboard" of social mobility indicators based on the life cycle of a person.
"The objective is to make life chances more equal at the critical points for social mobility," she said. These include early childhood development, secondary school attainment, opportunities for tertiary education, and getting into the labour market.
Dr Janil revealed that nine in 10 students from the bottom 20 per cent of socio-economic backgrounds progress to post-secondary education, which refers to universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education.
More than half of students who live in one to three-room flats move on to publicly-funded degree or diploma programmes, he said.
In a reply to Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) who had spoken about raising the quality of early childhood educators, Mr Ng said that efforts to strengthen the pre-school sector are on track, with the National Institute of Early Childhood Development to be fully operational by January next year.
Dr Intan had said that it is important to give pre-school teachers more recognition, rewards and incentives, similar to their counterparts in primary and secondary schools.
He said that kindergartens run by MOE will also work on meeting the needs of more (he did not say more spaces) special needs children, in response to Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) who had given feedback that families have trouble finding pre-schools that are willing to take in their children with special needs.