Nearly half of low-income students in Singapore attend the same schools

The OECD report recommended spreading out the share of low-income students across schools and improving the level of social diversity in schools by reshaping school admission policies.
The OECD report recommended spreading out the share of low-income students across schools and improving the level of social diversity in schools by reshaping school admission policies.ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

Nearly half of low-income students in Singapore are concentrated in the same schools, a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has highlighted.

The report, released yesterday, found that 46 per cent of disadvantaged students in Singapore were attending "disadvantaged schools" in 2015, up from 41 per cent in 2009. The OECD average is 48 per cent.

Disadvantaged students are those in the bottom quarter of the socio-economic index within their country, while disadvantaged schools are defined as those which take in the bottom quarter of the country's student population.

The report, titled Equity In Education: Breaking Down Barriers To Social Mobility, said poorer students in such schools face a double disadvantage, as these schools may not have the best of resources, whether in teacher quality or financial resources. It recommended spreading out the share of low-income students across schools and improving social diversity in schools by reshaping school admission policies.

In response, Miss Cindy Khoo, divisional director of the Education Ministry's (MOE) planning division, said yesterday that the ministry has been monitoring the socio-economic profile of students in schools, independent of the OECD finding.

It is concerned about the "slow creeping up of the proportion" of low-income students in "disadvantaged schools", she said, although the term "disadvantaged schools" can be misleading. It implies the learning needs of disadvantaged students are not catered for in these schools, she said. "But in Singapore's context, all our schools are well-resourced by international standards."

She added that students of a lower socio-economic status in what OECD termed as "disadvantaged schools" are actually not worse off in terms of facilities.

 
 

MOE has been providing more support through literacy and numeracy levelling-up programmes, and increasing financial support for needy students. It also reviews admissions processes to ensure schools do not become closed circles, and students can interact with people from different backgrounds, said Miss Khoo.

For instance, since 2014, 40 places in every primary school have been reserved for children without any prior links to the school. From next year, one-fifth of spots in secondary schools affiliated to primary schools will be set aside for those who do not benefit from affiliation priority.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2018, with the headline 'Nearly half of low-income students in Singapore attend the same schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe