Secondary school students in Integrated Programme (IP) schools are 2½ times more confident of attaining at least a university degree, compared to their peers in other schools, according to a new study.
It also found that parents' expectations played a more important role in children's confidence in pursuing higher education, compared to other factors such as type of school.
The study, which also pointed to some extent of class differences between schools, was commissioned and conducted by the Singapore Children's Society (SCS) and completed in April. The society offers a range of services for children, youth and families. It also does research on related social trends.
Its principal investigator is Ms Ong Xiang Ling, an SCS research officer, and its research adviser is Dr Cheung Hoi Shan, a post-doctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Their research findings were presented last Friday at a global conference hosted by NUS' Centre for Family and Population Research.
Ms Ong said the study's key aim was to find out if students from different schools have varying educational aspirations, and how differently they perceived their academic abilities. She added that there has not been much research or data on social stratification in local schools.
From September to December last year, 601 students aged between nine and 17 were surveyed, along with their parents.
The students came from a spread of housing estates and schools across Singapore. They were divided into three school categories.
Type 1 comprised IP schools, which allow students to skip the O levels, and primary schools which offered the Gifted Education Programme. Primary schools affiliated to IP schools were also in this group.
Type 2 were government-aided schools and autonomous schools which did not offer the IP, and Type 3 were government schools.
The study involved 31, 48 and 111 schools from the three categories respectively. The researchers randomly selected housing estates nearest schools, after identifying geographical areas with the highest make-up of Primary 4 to Secondary 4 schoolchildren based on national census statistics.
Ms Ong said the sample size is representative of Singapore's population in terms of gender, ethnic composition and housing type. To ensure a fair representation, not more than 15 students were picked from a single school.
Door-to-door surveys were conducted by interviewers from a local research company. Parents and children were interviewed separately.
The interviews covered topics such as parents' and children's aspirations, and how confident they were of their academic abilities. They were also asked to indicate socio-economic status (SES) information such as if they lived in private housing, if any parent is a university graduate and if their monthly household income exceeded $10,000.
Ms Ong said the study threw up a few significant findings. First, children from Type 1 schools were more likely to have high educational aspirations. For instance, about 80 per cent of Type 1 secondary school students were highly confident that they could get at least a university degree, compared to 54 per cent and 42 per cent for Type 2 and 3 students respectively.
There was no difference in confidence levels for primary school pupils, perhaps because parents feel primary school is less important than secondary school, said Ms Ong. "Confidence levels get a boost when students are in Type 1 secondary schools. Parents tend to believe that if the child is in a good secondary school, he or she will be more likely to achieve good results at the national exams, which are high- stakes exams that determine the child's tertiary pathways."
In secondary school, students' school type and SES influenced their aspirations but parents' expectations played a more important role, according to the study.
About 88 per cent of parents whose children attend Type I secondary schools were highly confident of their children's ability to attain a degree, compared to 70 per cent and 52 per cent for Type 2 and Type 3 respectively.
Similarly, among the multiple factors, only parents' expectations made a difference in primary school pupils' confidence.
Ms Ong said: "It is not so much the type of school that matters. Parents should not judge their children's abilities based on the secondary schools they are in. If they can do this, it will help the confidence of children in non-elite secondary schools."
Ms Ong and Dr Cheung are now working on a research monograph, or a compilation of their study's results, to be made public this year.
More findings from the study will be released next month.