23 May 2006

Little Ironies

On 20 May, the Straits Times tells us that the Education Ministry plans to help low-income families to get their children enrolled in preschools. This seems to be a noble initiative.

ST May 20, 2006
Help on way for children who are not in pre-school
Ministry will identify them and help get them enrolled

By Maria Almenoar
THE Education Ministry (MOE) plans to identify low-income families whose children do not attend pre-school and work with various agencies to get them enrolled.

It also wants to help those who are already in pre-school, but do not have the home support to learn English.

These two thrusts are geared towards giving disadvantaged children a strong start in learning - either through a strong pre-school foundation or by helping them beef up their grasp of English.

Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, speaking at the 20th anniversary celebration dinner of the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) last night, outlined these two initiatives and said: 'We want to do better to help children from less-advantaged homes. At Primary 1 each year, we find children who are not ready for school.


For children who fall through the cracks, MOE will work closely with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sport to trace them and get them into school. Already, the Family Service Centres have approached a number of the PCF's 266 kindergartens and have placed 16 children so far. More will be helped in the coming months.

Ironically, on the same day, the Straits Times also reports that the Education Ministry is forcing a kindergarten to close down, because it does not have a licence.

Very ironic, considering that this kindergarten has been operating for 40 years. That is to say, it's almost as old as this nation itself.

Furthermore, the kindergarten seems to be running not on a pure commercial basis, but also has some elements of a charity and community service. Note its affiliation with a church; its very low school fees; and the comments about how it waives fees for children of low-income families.
ST May 20, 2006
80 kids left in the lurch after preschool closes
Kindergarten told by MOE to cease operations as it did not have a licence

By Maria Almenoar and Dawn Lim
THE parents of more than 80 preschoolers are scrambling to find new kindergartens after the Education Ministry (MOE) closed the Children's Garden of Learning in Circuit Road.

The kindergarten, run by MacPherson Christian Church, has been teaching children from nursery level to Kindergarten 2 (K2) without a licence for 40 years.

MOE instructed it to cease operations on May 8, following a tip-off from a member of the public.

Madam Tan Kim Huay, the kindergarten's 67-year-old teacher coordinator, said the school was caught by surprise because it had not received any warnings before.

Parents were even more surprised when they took their children to the school on May 8 and teachers told them they would stop classes by May 10.

Housewife Wendy Quek, 41, whose six-year-old son was in the kindergarten, said: 'This came out of the blue. One day they are open, the next day they are not. My son loves this kindergarten and now he cries that he can't go there anymore.'


For other parents, it is the fees that other kindergartens charge that are a concern.

A parent of a K2 pupil, who wanted to be known only as Madam Zhong, said: 'This kindergarten charges us only $40 a month but the other kindergartens charge more than $90 a month. I cannot afford this.

'And here they are understanding - if we cannot pay, they will give us a waiver or let us pay the following month.'

The 43-year-old housewife said that her husband works as an odd-job labourer earning about $600 a month.

The closure of one preschool may be seen as a rather miniscule event, in the diary of a nation. On the other hand, on closer examination, this matter has several aspects which merit a closer examination.
In an e-mail statement on Monday, MOE said that kindergartens are registered if they meet the basic requirements in land use, safety, hygiene, teacher qualifications and curriculum.

The ministry added that it would 'expedite the registration process' for Children's Garden of Learning if possible.
It's pertinent to note that no one is saying that there is anything wrong with CGL's land use, safety, hygiene, teacher qualifications or curriculum. And note that CGL had been operating happily for the past 40 years.

In other words, it's now being shut down on a pure technicality.

This is unfortunate. The Education Ministry's actions have suddenly disrupted the preschool education of more than 80 young kids, and their parents are now going to scramble to find places for them elsewhere(no easy task, considering we are midway through the school year). The grace period given by the Education Ministry was two days.

Surely the Education Ministry could have thought of more intelligent ways to handle the matter. For example, it could have allowed the school to go on operating for the next three months, and in the meantime worked with CGL on the registration requirements.

Alternatively if CGL cannot or does not wish to meet the registration requirements, the Education Ministry could allow it to operate for two more semesters. In the meantime, CGL can stop taking in new students and the parents of the currently-enrolled kids can have some extra time to make alternative arrangements.

Why is it that Mr Wang keeps coming up with all these simple, effective solutions, which Tharman Shanmugaratnam cannot?

It's embarrassing.

Looking at CGL's location (Circuit Road, one of the poorer parts of Singapore), its church affiliation and the comments of Madam Zhong, one can guess that CGL primarily takes in children from low-income families. In other words, the very same children whom the Education Ministry professed to want to help (see first ST article cited above).

Help? How?

By shutting down the only school that they can afford?

"Dear God ... please give me strength. The charity &
kindergarten registration paperwork in Singapore
is driving me nuts!" - Mother Teresa.


Anonymous said...

Hi mr wang, that's an insightful analysis of 2 ST articles.

Ever thought of taking it a step further by say, conducting interviews with the kindergarten or their customers?

Otherwise you might miss out pertinent information that's not reported in ST.

Just a thought, cheers.

Anonymous said...

i propose for Mr Wong to take over Tharman's position as Education Minister. I am sure Mr Wong can do a better job;)

moomooman said...

I propose Mr Wang call the NEW PAPER HOTLINE.

And I think circuit road falls under ALJUNIED GRC. Time for George Yeo to step up.

Maybe this is a trap. Maybe this article is timed in such a way so that George Yeo can come in and help the centre.

angry doc said...

Self-help is encouraged... just make sure you have a licence. :)

Anonymous said...

And these are supposed to be the best people we have to run the country? Good Lord, have mercy on us all!

Anonymous said...

Hi Moomooman,

I believe part of Circuit Road falls under MacPherson SMC, and the rest under Marine Parade GRC.

KiWeTO said...

Well, it was a minor functionary that had to ensure that nobody in Singapore would stray outside MoE rules for kindergartens. And in Singapore, the moment there is a 'complaint' (read: tipoff), there must be action, otherwise, how to report to boss that no action was taken?

We are reaching the ultimate in bureacratic-hood - when there is completely no sympathy nor freedom of discretion to make humane decisions, rather than systematic decisions.

School has no license? cannot operate.

School has students? irrelevant. It has no licence. It is illegal.

School has been running for 40 years? Irrelevant. It has no license. It is illegal.

There is a complete lack of discretionary power for the functionary, so even if he/she were to empathize, he/she would still have no room to maneuvre. It must be closed. ASAP.

Why can't we move to a system where the functionaries are given discretionary power (read: give them responsibility to exercise their own judgment!) and put in place review and oversight committees to prevent abuses rather than just simply telling them to apply the rule(as designed by some smart scholar) as it is ?

Then again, with bureacratic cultures being a "cover-my-ass" and "avoidance of responsiblity", am I asking too much in the juxtaposition of purposes?


Anonymous said...

If the MOE or the govt is really serious about having every child receive pre-school education, they should incorporate pre-school into the national education system. As practised in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, children enter primary school at age 5-6 in Year 0, prep or reception grade. In this way, pre-school will be kept affordable so there will be no problem of parents not sending their children to preschool due to cost. We all know that attending kinder in S'pore is more expensive than sending a child to primary sch, even in PAP kindergartens. Since education is compulsory for all 'mainstream' children, parents have to send their kids to school. Moreover, teachers will be formally trained by NIE and thus suitably qualified, and the quality of teaching can be ensured.

Maybe it is not being done now because of cost consideration. Or perhaps the PAP kindergarten network is too much of a political tool to give up.

Benjamin Ho said...

Have you considered the possibility that our kids are being politically propagandized in the midst of their education? I've got a 10-year-old cousin (and his 8-year-old sister) who are able to rattle off the names of their MPs (new and old)... what more, my cousin even told his schoolmates that to vote for the PAP!

Joseph Chiang said...

mr wang, more people like yourself should join politics and get into parliament and take over the minister of education's job instead. i don't think tharman is the right man for the job at all.