Singaporean parents are pleased with the local primary education system, believing it to be one of the best in the world, according to a new survey by the Institute of Policy Studies. What's more a lot of the stories about the difficulties of getting into good schools in the city are myths the survey finds.
“When we hear people mention anecdotally that the primary school system is extremely difficult to get in, where people have to queue up and do all kinds of things to get into a good school, it seems that in people’s opinion, there’s a rarity of good schools,” said IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, who added the results indicate that most primary schools lived up to parents’ expectations, regardless of whether the school was their choice.
"The survey finds however that this is not true."
Not only do 9 out of 10 parents think the education system is one of the best in the world, they aslo agree most primary schools provided a high-quality education. More than 80 per cent also agreed that the primary schools their children go to are schools that are considered a “good school”. Nearly 70 per cent said their children went to a school of their choice that is considered a good school by most people, while another 12.7 per cent said their child went to a school that was not their choice, but still considered a good school by most people.
Only 3.7 per cent said the school their child was in was not of their choice, and also not considered a good school by most people. And of the respondents in this category, nearly four in 10 of them still reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the school.
The majority of respondents – 77.3 per cent – did not do anything actively to secure a good primary school for their child. While the annual Primary 1 registration exercise is one that often appears to be “riddled with anxiety”, the survey results indicated that only 27.9 per cent of respondents reported experiencing challenges.
The results “bust the myth” that Singaporean parents were going all out to secure a place in a primary school for their child, according to Dr Matthew. The "kiasu parent" mentality may not in fact resonate with most Singaporeans, he added.
But what is a good school anyway?
The survey also asked respondents to identify key features of a “good school”.
Almost all parents – 97.2 per cent of respondents – indicated that having teachers who cared about the socio-emotional development of students was an important feature of a good school.
This was ranked higher than the school’s ability to help students develop a strong academic foundation, which saw 97 per cent saying this was a key feature of a good school.
Parents also ranked highly an emphasis on character and values, as well as working to help weaker children do better, with about 94 per cent of respondents agreeing that these were features of a good school.
Emerging tops among the results and achievement factors were a record of high PSLE scores (72.8 per cent) and students from the school going to reputable secondary schools (70.6 per cent).
Despite notions that many parents’ Primary 1 enrollment choice for their child is highly influenced by whether the school has feeder links to particular secondary schools, an affiliation with a good secondary school ranked fourth on the list of results and achievement-centred features. Just over three in five parents felt this was an important feature.
Choosing a school - what you look for...?
More than 90 per cent said the quality of teachers and emphasis on character building were important when choosing a school.
However, while parents reported a desire for more emphasis on character-building and holistic education, many do continue to place a heavy weight” on academics when it comes to school choice. And that despite the fact that 70.8 per cent of parents indicated that the number one cause for stress and anxiety from their child’s education came from helping him or her with tests and examinations.
Other top causes of stress included the concern that their child may lose out in the education system in the long run (63.4 per cent), and the fear of their child failing to obtain the grades that they are capable of (56.8 per cent).
"Even though many parents identify with the need for a more balanced education system, other factors still wield considerable influence in shaping their behaviour when it comes to their child’s education... These could include a sense of having to push their child to keep up with his peers when it comes to grades, driven by the underlying perception that academic performance is still a key ticket to good jobs. This then creates high levels of stress, both for the parents and the child.”
“The bulk of parents are no longer centred on ‘the most important thing is to hothouse my kid and drive him to come up with all the As’,” Dr Mathews said. “Parents do know that education is a lot more than that. It’s about character, it’s about values.” However according to the report, some parents still see education as purely a rat race.... Hopefully, this can shift to one where schools are seen as an environment for building softer skills such as collaboration, curiosity, perseverance and initiative.
“Rather than pure academic grades, these competencies will be key drivers of success in the innovation-driven economy of the present and future...”
In total, 1,500 parents were surveyed across 180 primary schools in the first "nationally representative and publicly available attempt" to obtain parents' views on a wide range of issues related to the Singapore primary school system.