Many Singapore parents still prefer popular elite schools, but there are more important factors you should consider before Primary 1 registration fever hits. EVELINE GAN runs you through the checklist.
Despite the Ministry of Education’s stand that “every school is a good school”, Phyllis Ramasamy, 35, admits she was one of those parents who checked out unofﬁcial primary school rankings online.
Determined to give her ﬁrstborn the best start in education, the mum-of-three started Googling for “best” primary schools in the West – where she lives – during his ﬁrst year in kindergarten.
She considered volunteering at the most popular primary school that came up during her online search. The schools were ranked based on awards they have received.
“I eventually decided against volunteering due to time constraints. The school was also too far away – more than 3km – from my home and the admin staff said it is not promised that my son would eventually get in even if I became a parent volunteer,” says Phyllis, a preschool teacher.
Some parents however, are undeterred by distance. Phyllis shares that some of her friends even moved house to be nearer to brand-name schools to increase the chances of their child being accepted there.
“Of course, I’d like my kids to be in one of those brand name schools. But distance matters too, which was why I looked at neighbourhood schools near my home. Even so, I feel that the quality of neighbourhood schools matter,” she says.
So, how do you pick a primary school for your kid? Here, we get the Ministry of Education (MOE), education experts and parents to weigh in.
It’s not about good vs bad schools
First things ﬁrst, know that there isn’t such a thing as a “bad” school. All primary schools are equipped with suitable facilities and well-trained teachers such as a variety of programmes that develop students’ conﬁdence, curiosity and collaborative spirit, says an MOE spokesperson.
Examples of such programmes include the Applied Learning Programmes and Learning for Life Programmes, which engage students in learning through real-world tasks and cultivate their interests in areas such as science and technology, sports and the arts, says the spokesperson.
Know your child
It’s important to consider a variety of factors when choosing a school – in particular, your kid’s interest, strengths and needs, says MOE’s spokesperson.
By the time your child turns six, you’d have some idea of her natural interests, says Vivien Kwok, principal of British Council Preschool.
“Is it performing arts, aesthetics, sport or technology? Shortlist schools that offer what your child likes. As adults, parents can better identify the child’s potential and attempt to harness it,” she says.
When deciding between two schools she narrowed down for her child, Phyllis eventually chose the one that offered a unique CCA that her son would enjoy.
“He was very interested in robotics, and we decided on West Grove Primary as it is one of the schools in the West offering it,” she says.
Get a sense of the school’s culture and environment
Every school has a different environment, culture and vibe, and the ﬁrst question you should ask is whether your child will be happy there. Get a feel of the school by checking out its campus.
Many kindergartens prepare their K2 children for Primary 1 with trips to nearby schools’ open houses, which offer a glimpse into the primary school learning environment.
Parents may be invited to come along on these open house excursions with their children, and there will be a separate information session organised by the school for them, says the Mindchamps Preschool team.
According to the team, parents can get insights into the school’s values and approach towards learning, as well as the various CCAs available through these sessions. From there, they can gauge of the school is a suitable ﬁt for their child.
At the same time, take the chance to talk to the teachers. It will help you get a sense of how enthusiastic and passionate they are about their work, which can affect your child’s learning, Phyllis says.
She adds that it might also be useful to hear it from the grapevine too, either through parents of existing students in the school or by becoming a parent volunteer yourself.
“I’ve received a mix of comments about the primary school I shortlisted for my son. But overall, based on what I heard, I was happy with my choice,” says Phyllis, who is currently a member of the parents support group in her children’s school.
“We placed her in a neighbourhood primary school, and were happy with our choice as the school is really into holistic education.”
Logistics matter more than you think
An extra half-an-hour of shut-eye can make a huge difference for sleep-deprived Singapore kids. That is why logistics matter when it comes to shortlisting a suitable school (visit www.onemap.sg for a list of schools within 1km and 1 to 2km).
“The travelling time to and from school will impact the child’s rest time and daily routine. Also, consider the convenience of family members who participate as volunteers and attend events at school,” says Vivien of the British Council Preschool.
Margaret Chan, a CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls’ School alumna, very much wanted to send her daughter Fayth to her alma mater, but eventually decided against it.
“We are currently living in the East and St Nic’s is in the North. We must understand that the commute to and from school is not for one day, but for six years of the child’s life.
“As my daughter will have to get up way too early and arrive home late, this will not be healthy for her, says the 44-year-old senior executive.
Margaret strongly believes that every child needs to be comfortable with her study environment. Fayth, now 14, did well for her PSLE.
“We placed her in a neighbourhood primary school, and were happy with our choice as the school is really into holistic education. From there, we saw our daughter grow and mature into a person who is able to make her decisions and knows what she wants,” Margaret says.
Affiliation can help
Some primary schools offer priority admission to feeder secondary schools, as they have religious or clan associations, Vivien says.
Your child can enjoy priority if she meets the school’s admission criteria and indicates the afﬁliated secondary school as her ﬁrst choice, according to MOE’s Primary School Education information booklet.
But this is not a guarantee. Starting from this year, one-ﬁfth of places in secondary schools that are afﬁliated to primary schools will be set aside for non-afﬁliated students.
So, if the demand exceeds the number of places, your afﬁliated kid will have to compete with non-afﬁliated students for admission, which is based on their PSLE scores.
Let’s talk about inclusion
If your child has physical disabilities, consider a school that caters to his needs. There are currently 57 primary schools with barrier-free accessibility for children with physical disabilities, according to MOE’s website (See the full list at www.tinyurl.com/InclusivePriSch).
Schools with such barrier-free accessibility have been built or upgraded with more accessible routes and facilities, such as ramps, lifts for wheelchair users, disabled- friendly toilets, and so on.
All mainstream schools support students with mild special educational needs such as dyslexia, attention deﬁcit hyperactivity disorder and mild autism. Primary schools have teachers trained in special needs and allied educators to help them integrate into the school environment.
Check out these interesting neighbourhood schools
• AHMAD IBRAHIM PRIMARY SCHOOL
This school gets students interested in learning their Mother Tongue through its Traditional Asian Medicine Curriculum (TAM).
Lower primary students learn to describe symptoms of common illnesses to the doctor and the medicinal properties of commonly found food, while upper primary students are appointed as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) ambassadors who assist teachers to conduct learning sessions for Primary 4 students in the school’s TCM Room.
The school also collaborates with TCM clinics to arrange for learning visits for Primary 5 and 6 students.
There is even a TAM herb garden in school, where students can learn how common Chinese, Malay and Indian herbs are grown.
• BLANGAH RISE PRIMARY SCHOOL
The school has a Young Photographers programme, where all Primary 2 to 6 students learn to use a digital SLR camera and are encouraged to pen reﬂections about the photos they take.
Students with the interest and passion can also join Mediakids, a CCA that exposes them to media technology and the way it affects our daily lives. This school has an MOE Kindergarten.
• LIANHUA PRIMARY SCHOOL
Its Young Exploring Scientists! (Yes!) programme promotes learning beyond the classroom. Since 2016, the school has developed a variety of learning spaces, such as a frog enclosure, edible garden, indoor hydroponics and ﬁsh-breeding corner, where students can volunteer as nature guides and share their knowledge with their peers.
• WEST VIEW PRIMARY SCHOOL
The school’s Applied Learning Programme on environmental science is known as Friend of Earth Researcher, Innovator, Explorer, Naturalist, Diplomat). It equips students with the knowledge, disposition, and skills to promote sustainable living in the future.
It is Stream-based, covering science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and mathematics (which make up the acromyn). Students learn to make use of science and technology to combat environmental issues, such as by creating a self-watering system. In the process, they are do research, analyse trends, and present their ﬁndings.
West View will have an MOE Kindergarten in 2021.
How reliable are unofficial school rankings?
Since the Ministry of Education stopped releasing the names of top PSLE scorers, no one is sure which are the best primary schools here based on academic performance.
But that hasn’t stopped some websites from getting creative with their own rankings. For instance, some are ranked according to the awards received.
Other lists are compiled based on number of vacancies leftover during the registration phases.
As a preschool educator, Phyllis Ramasamy has had the chance to see how lessons are conducted in various primary schools.
She feels that while every school has its “pros and cons”, better schools generally have practices in place that positively impact the child’s learning.
“The activities in these (brand-name) schools would be of higher intellectual ability and they are selective about their teachers hired, too,” says assessment book author Mathini Segar, who is the academic director (Science Olympiad) at the Singapore International Maths Contest Centre.
However, how well a child does in school also depends on his learning attitude and family support.
“As a parent, I’ll do my part for my child. But ultimately, no matter which school your child is in, a lot still depends on the child himself, and not just the school,” she adds.
PHOTOS DARREN CHANG