SINGAPORE - Withholding the original Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results slip due to school fee arrears is a "longstanding practice", the Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Tuesday evening (Nov 26).
The ministry was responding to a Facebook post by career counsellor and activist Gilbert Goh which has been circulating online.
Mr Goh had said on Monday that he came across a parent whose daughter received a photocopy of her PSLE results but not the original slip. Due to financial reasons, the family had not paid $156 in school fees.
PSLE results were released last week.
In response to queries, the MOE said: "In the case highlighted by the Facebook posts, the parents did not pay miscellaneous fees for two years despite several reminders, and did not put in any application for MOE or school-based financial assistance which would have covered all the costs.
"The child will still receive a copy of the results, just not the original results slip, and she can still apply for secondary schools and will progress like all students."
However, Mr Goh said in his post that getting only a photocopy of the results was "rubbing salt into the wound of poverty".
"Fortunately, a Good Samaritan paid for her school fee and she managed to acquire the actual PSLE certificate recently which she will need to produce when applying for admission into a secondary school," he claimed.
The MOE's response clarifies that the original certificate is not needed when applying for a secondary school place.
Mr Goh's post has drawn more than 3,000 shares and 1,000 comments. The post was also later quoted by former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian.
The MOE spokesman said the issue is "not about recovering the money", adding that the ministry's funding for each primary school pupil comes up to $12,000 a year, and each pupil pays only $13 in miscellaneous fees per month.
Those from lower-income families can apply for financial assistance which covers miscellaneous fees, uniforms, textbooks, transport and school meals.
"If it is about money, then the easier solution would be to reduce subsidies and financial assistance," said the ministry.
"MOE's consideration stems from the underlying principle that notwithstanding the fact that the cost of education is almost entirely publicly funded, we should still play our part in paying a small fee, and it is not right to ignore that obligation, however small it is. We hope parents support us in reinforcing this message."
It added: "The priority of our educators and our institutions is to ensure that students grow and can fulfil their potential, and we should not allow financial circumstances to become an impediment to their progress and development."
The MOE said the authors of the "viral posts are trying to call into question the intention and values of MOE".
"Our educators, parents and members of public will have to decide whether MOE's action is fair and educationally sound, and what the lesson of this teachable moment for our children is," said the ministry.
Mr Goh had also shared on Facebook three separate instances of families in similar situations. In all three cases, donors stepped forward to help the families cover arrears, he said.
When contacted, Mr Goh, 58, said: "It can be quite demoralising for children, especially when they compare themselves to their peers."
"I don't blame the MOE. There is a lot of help for needy families through financial assistance, and school fees are mostly free, but sometimes there are families who fall through the cracks," he said.
Some families facing financial problems have a multitude of challenges, from unemployment and family issues to having to support ageing parents, he added.
"Sometimes, when people are down, they may only pay outstanding bills that they think are more essential, like electricity bills, phone bills. So school fees could be their lowest priority, and that can build up when they ignore it."