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Govt can do more to reduce concentration of disadvantaged and privileged students in some schools: Ong

SINGAPORE — Singapore's education system continues to spur social mobility for students from poorer backgrounds, but Education Minister Ong Ye Kung acknowledged that more can be done to counter the “unhealthy trend” of disadvantaged and privileged students being concentrated in certain schools.

Govt can do more to reduce concentration of disadvantaged and privileged students in some schools: Ong

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that schools cannot provide high levels of education and care alone, and should continue to tap community resources, which go beyond just monetary donations.

SINGAPORE — Singapore's education system continues to spur social mobility for students from poorer backgrounds, but Education Minister Ong Ye Kung acknowledged that more can be done to counter the “unhealthy trend” of disadvantaged and privileged students being concentrated in certain schools.

Among other things, there can be a better mix of students in every school, and all schools should also continue to be well-resourced and -supported, said Mr Ong, who was speaking on Wednesday (Oct 24) at a dinner by non-profit organisation Equal-Ark in the Shangri-La Hotel.

It was previously announced that from next year’s Secondary 1 posting exercise, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will reserve one-fifth of school places for those without affiliation to a secondary school.

Apart from this initiative, Mr Ong noted that presently, the MOE skews resources in favour of weaker pupils, having set up specialised schools — NorthLight, Assumption Pathway, Spectra and Crest — to provide a “whole-school education approach” to better meet students’ needs.

These schools offer curricula that are practice-oriented and more technical in nature to help students pick up skills which will put them in good stead to land a job after graduation.

Mr Ong was responding to a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a day earlier. It placed Singapore third in the world for educational mobility behind Cyprus and the Russian Federation.

Among other findings, the OECD Equity in Education report said that more than 55 per cent of adults here aged 26 and above attained a higher education than their parents. This is higher than the average of about 40 per cent obtained by the 33 countries studied in the report.

It also found that about half the students here from disadvantaged backgrounds performed better than predicted by their family background, compared with the OECD average of around 30 per cent.

Still, the report identified gaps in areas such as how well students from lower socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds do, compared with the top scorers in the nation.

For instance, only 10 per cent of 15-year-old students from lower SES backgrounds in Singapore attained equivalent scores in science that the top quarter of the country achieved.

The report also found that on average, among OECD countries, 48 per cent of disadvantaged students attended disadvantaged schools, and there has been no significant change in segregation levels in most countries over the past decade.

The MOE said that in Singapore, that figure is around 46 per cent.

Ms Cindy Khoo, divisional director of the MOE’s planning division, told reporters on Tuesday that “in Singapore’s context, all our schools are well-resourced by international standards”.

She added: “Therefore, our lower-SES students in what OECD termed as ‘disadvantaged schools’ are actually not worse off in terms of provisions.”

On Wednesday, Mr Ong reiterated the MOE’s recent slew of measures to help students in lower-income households.

The ministry recently improved its financial assistance scheme, which helps students with school fees, textbooks and uniforms, by raising the income eligibility criteria to benefit more of such students.

Under the School Meals Programme, the provision of food has also been raised from seven to 10 meals a week for eligible secondary school students. About 50,000 students from lower-income families are on the scheme, Mr Ong said.

“These students need not worry about going hungry in school and can focus on learning,” he said.

The Government is also investing heavily in pre-school education, with one-third of MOE Kindergarten spots reserved for students from lower-income families.

By 2020, student-care centres will also be in every school to provide students with a conducive environment to study and finish their homework.

Still, Mr Ong said schools cannot provide such high levels of education and care alone, and should continue to tap community resources, which go beyond just monetary donations.

For instance, he noted that the Equal-Ark charity helps at-risk youth and those with special needs gain social-emotional and self-management skills via equine-assisted experiential learning. Students learn about horses and experience riding them through the programme.

“More importantly, outside of the sessions at the stables, case workers and teachers work with students to develop action plans, to continue to bring about positive behavioural changes,” said Mr Ong.

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