School fee increase should be gradual

The Straits Times | Nov 16, 1989
By: Mr Ng Kim Seng (reader)

FIRST Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said more will be spent to develop every child and worker to their fullest potential when he opened Productivity Month recently, stressing that Singapore's success lies in the quality of its people.

However, the announcement by independent schools to raise fees next year makes me wonder whether the ministry of Education and the schools concerned are responding to Mr Goh's speech. They are making quality education available only to the rich, and beyond the reach of the poor and the not so well-off.

Anglo-Chinese School, Chinese High and Raffles Institution will charge $100 per month next year, while Methodist Girls' School, Singapore Chinese Girls' School and St Joseph's Institution will charge $50 a month.

For students in Chinese High, it means a four-fold increase from the present $25 a month.

Have the independent schools really considered the hardship that this will bring to the parents of the pupils who are already in such schools?

Do not gloss over their difficulties with the words: "We are committed to the cause of education and no deserving child shall ever be disadvantaged on account of financial difficulties."

How many of the present pupils will actually get financial assistance - 2 per cent, 5 per cent or 10 per cent?

What about the rest? Can all of them afford to pay?

Is it not unfair to the parents of this group who did not expect such an increase?

The reasons given for the increase are too weak for us to accept and the increase is simply too steep. Increase, yes, but gradually, please!

Those from families with a household income of between $800 and $1,200 qualify for half subsidy. But "qualify" does not mean that they will get it.

What about those whose incomes are slightly above $1,200 but who are heavily committed to developing the other aspects of their children's potential, like arts or music?

And what about the need to save for the tertiary education of their children?
One cannot spend every cent one has on a child who is now in an independent school and neglect the welfare of the other children in the family.

Say you have a child in Sec 1 this year. Imagine paying $1,200 per year for his education when he will just be in Sec 2.

Nobody can guarantee that there will not be another 400 per cent increase in fees when he is in Sec 3. And there is still Sec 4 to think about.

The Ministry of Education and the independent schools have given a reassurance that children of less well-off families will be given financial assistance.

We all know that only a very small number will actually get remission of school fees.

The independent schools will soon become "private upper-class schools", as pointed out by Mr Peh Chin Hua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC, if the present trend of fee increases is not checked.

The fears and worries of the families of the lower-income groups are very real. The higher fees will prevent these families from sending their children to independent schools.

I agree with Mr Peh's suggestion that independent schools do some adjustments to the increase, "such as $50 across the board for all independent schools", instead of different rates for different schools.