SINGAPORE - Four years ago, Mrs Cheryl Wong and her daughter went through a ballot for a Primary 1 spot not just once but twice.
Both times they were unsuccessful at their bid to get into Kong Hwa School. Her daughter later cried in the car and asked why the school “did not want her”.
Facing the luck of the draw in sought-after primary schools, which has become a yearly nail-biting ritual with halls of nervous parents praying and hoping, then cheering or crying, will soon be a thing of the past.
Parents will not need to go down to schools for balloting from this year, as manual balloting conducted by schools as part of the annual Primary 1 registration exercise will be replaced by computerised balloting.
In a press release on Tuesday (March 20), the Ministry of Education (MOE) said that the computerised process, which it will centrally conduct, will help to “streamline” the registration processes and make it more convenient for parents.
Like the manual process, computerised balloting – which has been used for years during Secondary 1 posting and admissions exercises to junior colleges or polytechnics - ensures that all who need to ballot “are assured of an equal chance of admission into the school”, it said.
Balloting is usually done when the number of applications exceeds the vacancies at a school during the registration phases.
Those who live nearer the school – typically within 1km – get priority in the ballot.
Parents can continue to refer to the MOE website to find out which schools need balloting at the end of each phase.
From this year, they will be notified via text message on the registration results and balloting outcome if applicable, on the same day.
Parents like Mrs Wong welcomed the change, saying that it takes away the inconvenience of having to physically attend the balloting sessions, and the stress of facing a room full of other parents.
“There’s still the stress of getting into a school, but at least you don’t have to face peer pressure,” said the 39-year-old freelance designer.
“As the names are being called out, and the number of seats get fewer, you get more and more kan cheong (overly anxious in Cantonese). It wasn’t just me, I could see other parents getting frustrated, especially those who did volunteer work,” said Mrs Wong, whose daughter later secured a place in Haig Girls’ School.
Ms Amanda Cho, 33, an operations manager whose daughter clinched a spot at Chongfu School through a ballot six years ago, said: “In the hall it’s very dramatic, it’s like people strike Toto. There’s cheering when a number is called, and then a lot of disappointment too.”
Business owner Kam Sook Wei, 35, who will be registering her son at Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) this year, said: “It’s a great idea to do balloting online as I hear from friends it’s so stressful and tense for parents in the room, and the one who doesn’t get it ends up crying.
“Parents shouldn’t have to go through this... they can cry at home.”
Another change that the ministry is making is for international students – from this year’s exercise, they will need to submit an “indication of interest” form online, along with their supporting documents, via MOE’s Primary 1 website from June 5 to 11. This is ahead of the actual Primary 1 registration that begins in late June.
They will be notified in October by MOE whether they can get a Primary 1 slot in a school, and must register in-person at the designated primary schools during Phase 3 which takes place in late October.
MOE said that it has been receiving more applications from foreign students over the years, resulting in more time being needed to process their applications.
It said that submitting an indication of interest is not considered registration and, as in previous exercises, school admission for international students is not guaranteed as there are limited vacancies after places have been allocated to Singaporean and permanent resident children.