Independent school fees will be cut by more than half, in some cases, for children from low-and middle-income families to increase diversity at Singapore's top schools.
"These are significant steps we are taking to enhance the diversity of independent schools, while preserving their meritorious culture," Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday, while stressing that education was a vital driver of social mobility and that the cost of attending independent schools for students from disadvantaged backgrounds was being addressed.
At Raffles Institution, for instance, which charges $335 a month, children from households with a monthly per capita income of $691 to $1,000 - or a gross household income of $2,751 to $4,000 - will, from next April, pay the same $25 fee as at government schools. Those from families with a monthly per capita income of $1,001 to $1,725 - or a gross household income of $4,001 to $6,900 - will pay $37.50.
Children from the first group of households are now paying $33.50 a month at RI, and those from the next income bracket, $100.50.
Children from the poorest families, with a monthly per capita income of $690 and below - or a gross household income of $2,750 and less - already have fees at independent schools fully subsidised, but can get a new $800 annual scholarship for out-of-pocket expenses.
This Uplift scholarship will be open to students from lower-income families at independent schools who performed well in their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and are recipients of the Edusave Scholarship for Independent Schools, or who have qualified through the Direct School Admission scheme. It is also open to students at the School of the Arts and the Singapore Sports School.
Already, 7.5 per cent of pupils living in one-to three-room HDB flats are placed in the top 20 per cent in the PSLE, Mr Ong said at a ceremony to appoint new principals. "We should ensure that they can enter these schools if they want to."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke "very frankly" on this issue during the debate on the President's Address to Parliament, said Mr Ong. "Popular schools, such as certain independent schools, are attracting a greater proportion of students from families with higher socio-economic status. So, diversity in these schools has gone down over the years," he added.
As successful parents invested more to send their children to popular schools, such schools became less diverse over time, Mr Ong said.
Under the new fee scheme, current and new students from low-or middle-income families will pay no fees in some cases, or at the most 1.5 times the fees at government and government-aided schools, the minister said. Previously, the subsidy for students from these families was pegged at different levels.
Mr Ong said tackling inequality "remains an unfinished business of this Government", and education plays a special role. "What better way to ensure social mobility than by preparing our children well for the future?"
Some steps were already under way. For instance, from next year, secondary schools have to ensure that a fifth of their places go to unaffiliated students. "We will review this floor over time," he said.
"Through these (forms of) additional financial assistance, all students, regardless of family income or background, can and should aspire to an education in a school of their choice and need not worry about the cost of education."
The popular schools that would now be more affordable for lower-income students consist of eight independent schools - Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Hwa Chong Institution, Methodist Girls' School, Nanyang Girls' High School, Raffles Girls' School, Raffles Institution, Singapore Chinese Girls' School and St Joseph's Institution - and two specialised independent schools - NUS High School and the School of Science and Technology, Singapore.