MOE Cuts Funding to Independent Schools

The funding cuts for the top independent schools in Singapore have recently raised quite a furore over the fairness of such a move.

Six top independent schools in Singapore have had their funding cut and, along with other mission schools, have been told to moderate fund-raising activities for campus upgrading.

In addition, they will have to comply with a new directive urging all schools with air-conditioned classrooms to install fans and use air-conditioning only when necessary.

The Straits Times, February 3rd 2014

My mother asked me what I thought about this the other day, but in all honesty, I’m a little shaky about where I stand. Views on this matter have largely been polemical and split; varying between two extreme sides of the spectrum: one side applauding the cuts with resounding approval, and the other lamenting the cuts as an unnecessary and harsh measure.

I think what lies at the core of this issue is elitism and the notion of equity.

Elitism is an increasingly contentious issue amongst Singaporeans nowadays, and for good reason – the wealth disparity between the poor and the rich in Singapore is getting more and more serious. And education is the key to bridging that gap. Singapore has always taken pride in the value of its educational system – after all, education is (almost) free for all Singaporean citizens, and the standards of public education here far outstrip most, if not all, countries. Education is the most critical avenue for those of lower socio-economic backgrounds to work their way up – education gives the less wealthy an opportunity to learn and make a living for themselves.

And so it is no wonder that we’ve gotten just a smidgen worked up about this.

If education isn’t fair and equal, if ‘Every School is [n’t] a Good School’, then we could only be perpetuating the problem. I do believe that all public schools should be given the same amount of attention and priority – focusing all our resources on a few particular ‘elite’ schools is not the way for the future. However, a lot of people are outraged, seeing this as ‘lowering the playing ground’ for the top schools, rather than elevating it for the less achieving schools.

And I see where they’re coming from – the way to more equitable funding and education should not be by disadvantaging elite schools; but by providing more support for the schools that lack the facilities they need to provide a better education. But we do have to keep in mind that sometimes these decisions can be hard; to provide some schools with more resources, funding inevitably has to be cut from others. At any rate, most of the top independent schools in Singapore have been around for quite some time and are blessed with quite a vast and affluent alumni base – if alumni can give back to their alma-maters, there surely will not be much of a problem with regards to funds.

And so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the funding cuts per se; it’s the extra restrictions behind it that cause me to question the move.

Funding for public schools comes from taxpayers – and so should be equally distributed amongst the schools in Singapore, and definitely not concentrated in the top schools. However, there is nothing wrong with individual schools organising their own fund-raising activities to upgrade their campuses. In fact, the government should be encouraging this – if individual schools have the ability to raise their own funds and provide better facilities for their students (via donations from parents or alumni), then that relieves some of the burden from the government to do so themselves, and therefore heightens their capacity to help other schools. At any rate, education is a continually changing process; our aim is to equip our children with the myriad of skills they need and to give them a fulfilling and enriching education. Why should campus upgrading be discouraged? If the funds do not come from the government, then surely the upgrading of one school will not sacrifice the progress of another.

And as for air-conditioning – I do quite sheepishly admit that I go to a school with air conditioning in virtually every classroom (however, I go to an international school so don’t fret just yet, our funds do not come from taxpayers’ money!). Granted, a switch to fans would be beneficial for the environment. However, I hardly think the money saved from the electricity bills after installing fans in one school will miraculously find its way into the funds of other schools. We shouldn’t resent or castigate those that have a better environment; but rather, we should aim to help those that don’t.

It seems to me that we’re walking a fine line between egalitarianism and schadenfreude.

But then again, insinuating that quality of education is measured by the facilities or air-conditioning liberties would be trivialising the value and concept of education. Things like the passion of the teachers, the classroom dynamics, the physical, emotional wellbeing of the students – that is the real core of education. But that being said, it doesn’t mean that we should limit the facilities that schools can have.

Perhaps all we need to do is take a deep breath and take a step back.

It is my belief that we all have an obligation to society, at least, to the schools and the people that have given us the opportunity to be where we are. And so, for those of you that come from those top independent schools – don’t resent the government for the cuts, but rather donate back to your school so that the students there can continue to enjoy better facilities. And for those of you who aren’t – Every School is a Good School.

We may not be there yet, but we will certainly try.

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