SINGAPORE - The Education Ministry will complete a review of its practice to withhold result slips when school fees are not paid by November, when the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results are released.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday (Jan 6) acknowledged that his ministry's current practice "may not be fully effective in urging all parents to pay miscellaneous fees".
Every year, about 2 per cent of the Primary 6 cohort are still accumulating arrears and did not apply for Ministry of Education (MOE) financial assistance, he said.
This worked out to 645 students in 2019, he said in a written parliamentary reply to Dr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten).
The minister's remarks come after a viral Facebook post cast the spotlight on MOE's practice of withholding original result slips when school fees are defaulted.
Last November, career counsellor and activist Gilbert Goh said he came across a parent whose daughter received a photocopy of her PSLE result slip. The family had not paid $156 in school fees as they had financial issues.
At that time, the ministry said it was a "longstanding practice" to withhold original copies of result slips when school fees are defaulted, and that original certificates are not needed when applying for a place in secondary school.
On Monday, Mr Ong said MOE will continue to "underscore the responsibilities of families to pay a small miscellaneous fee".
He noted that families pay only $6.50 a month out of pocket for miscellaneous fees for primary schools, with another $6.50 payable by Edusave.
"But a small payment is still required to demonstrate that as parents and families, we have a part to play. In fact, most families take this payment very seriously, and it inculcates in children the value of commitment and playing our part, however small."
He said withholding the original PSLE results slip is a last resort if parents still accumulate arrears, even after steps like getting them to apply for financial help have been taken.
Schools are also sensitive when distributing the results slip, and will make sure that everyone gets their results the same way, he added.
"But I accept the feedback that the child who receives a copy of his results slip instead of the original may feel awkward or embarrassed, through no fault of his. We do not want the children to bear responsibility for the arrears accumulated by their parents."
Mr Ong added that the school had earlier reached out to the parents of the child in question and given them an application and brochure for the MOE's Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS), which covers not just the school and miscellaneous fees, but also meals, uniforms, textbooks and transport. The parents did not apply.
The student has since been successfully placed in a secondary school of her choice near her home, and she is now receiving assistance as her parents have applied for the scheme, said Mr Ong.
The minister also debunked the idea that it is difficult to apply for financial assistance in school. Teachers and staff will help in filling up the forms when families need help, he said.
The MOE's FAS will also be automatically granted without the need for any further supporting documents if parents produce a ComCare approval letter, he added.
"Some of us in our community work come across such families, and wonder why assistance has not been extended to them and whether we are doing enough outreach. But please remember we are all part of the solution, and cannot place the onus solely on schools and teachers.
"When we know of such cases, surface them to the school or our community partners, and help will be extended to them," he said.