Ministry increases subsidies to help families send kids to independent schoolset
 
The Straits Times | Sep 6, 1990
By: Sandra Davie



THE Education Ministry has redefined "needy" so that families with monthly incomes of even up to $2,000 can now get help to send their children to independent schools.

On top of this, the ministry has raised the level of financial support for students from families with lower incomes. This revision of its financial assistance scheme for needy students came after hefty fee hikes at such schools prompted widespread concern that high-quality education may become out of reach of the less well-off.

On Saturday, Education Minister Tony Tan revealed that the revision was in the offing. Yesterday, the ministry unveiled the details.

At an estimated cost of $2.8 million for next year alone, it has extended the scheme to cover one in three students instead of the previous one in 10. The total number of students affected will depend on the six independent schools' intake, which was about 4,000 this year. The schools raised their fees at the beginning of this year.

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

Before it went independent this year, RI charged its students $10.50 a month. The other five schools, $25.
One of the first to take up the cudgel after fees were raised was Mr Peh Chin Hua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC, who said they put these schools beyond the reach of the average family.

But the revision has taken care of this category.

In fact, it even covers families who earn a lot more, with the proviso that the household income should be less than $1,000 per dependent child.

Previously, there were only two levels of assistance: Children from families with monthly household incomes of $800 or less qualified for fully subsidised fees, while those with household incomes of between $800 and $1,200 got half subsidies.

With the change, there will be three levels of subsidies - the last two addressing the needs of the middle income families (see box).

The scheme, created in 1988 when independent schools were first established, complements existing aid for needy students like a yearly school bursary award and textbook loan scheme.

But a number of people felt that all these were inadequate when the six schools raised their fees.

Middle income parents complained that the ministry's qualifying criteria for assistance were too stringent.
On learning of the revision yesterday, those contacted described the changes as "generous" and "more realistic".

One, Madam A. Lim, 41, a housewife, whose household income is $1,600, and who has two children, one of whom is in an independent school,said: "At least now you know that the government doesn't mean for independent schools to be just for rich men's sons and daughters."

Mr Peh Chin Hua called the new scheme "positive", adding that it would help to remove the "psychological barrier" that had deterred less well-off families from sending their children to independent schools.

The schools have not said if they will increase their fees again next year. Dr Tan said on Saturday that it was up to the six to decide their fees, "based on their budget, the grant from the Government and according to the educational programmes the school provides".

But, he stressed: "The Government's responsibility is to ensure that there are adequate financial assistance schemes so that no student who qualifies will be denied a place because his or her parents are unable to afford the fees."