Schools have autonomy to decide start times for students, says Sun Xueling

Ms Sun Xueling was responding to MPs who had asked if there are plans to re-evaluate school start times.
Ms Sun Xueling was responding to MPs who had asked if there are plans to re-evaluate school start times.ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE - While schools have the flexibility to start later so that students get enough sleep, parents must also play their part to cultivate good sleep habits, said Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling on Tuesday (Aug 3).

She was responding to Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) and Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), who had asked if there are plans to re-evaluate school start times.

At present, schools do not start earlier than 7.30am.

But Ms Sun said they have the autonomy to start later, taking into consideration factors such as parents' feedback, school end times, transport arrangements and the traffic situation around the school.

Noting that multiple issues contribute to the problem of sleep deprivation, Ms Sun added that her ministry has commissioned two research studies looking into the impact of factors affecting students' sleep duration and quality.

"Apart from whether school start times should be delayed, we will need to work with parents to improve sleep hygiene, manage the overall load on students, as well as their use of digital devices," she said.

Her remarks drew comments from Associate Professor Jamus Lim and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), with Prof Lim asking if the Education Ministry (MOE) could consider staggering start times for secondary school students.

He cited a Straits Times article by three sleep scientists, which pointed out that students in this age group experience changes that delay their preferred sleep times, and could therefore most benefit from a later start at school.

Meanwhile, Mr Lim suggested that schools should encourage parents to get their children to sleep earlier.

"When my kids were young, I used to tell them to sleep early... to be able to go to school without having problems," he said. "So, instead of getting school to start later, would we not consider asking children to sleep earlier, to get their full quota of available sleep?"

Ms Sun pointed out that schools already stagger start times as part of safe management measures. MOE will be looking at the results of its recently commissioned studies to better understand sleep issues, she said.

She also noted that delaying school start times may not translate to an increase in sleep duration, citing a 2016 study involving one local school that found that a 45-minute delay in school start time resulted in a 10-minute increase in sleep time.

Workers' Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) then asked if the issue of traffic congestion would become less of a concern, given that more people are now working from home in a trend that may persist beyond the pandemic.

Ms Sun replied that her ministry would consider these and other factors holistically.