Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang): Sir, following the concerns raised during the Budget debates last week about social mobility in Singapore, it is clear that we need to maintain and even redouble efforts to improve access to education and opportunities. At this point, I would like to declare my interest in an enterprise in the education space in markets including Singapore.
In order for our schools and universities to thrive, they must be mindful to make themselves accessible to students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Top universities, like the Ivy League and Oxbridge universities often make their admissions statistics widely available and publish targets on increasing access to admit more students from vulnerable or lower-income backgrounds. The careers services of such universities also often heavily emphasise and rely on alumni to maintain guidance for students and former students who have since graduated.
Indeed, I was myself involved in being a student mentor at my university, providing mentorship for promising sixth formers, or “A” Levels students, who would be the first in their family to attend university. I also continue to occasionally receive emails from current or recent students of the university, seeking careers advice on topics relating to different career pathways and options.
It is with this in mind that we managed to successfully launch a mentorship programme for students in Sengkang two years ago and many of our participants found it helpful to be able to discuss their educational and career options with mentors from a wide variety of backgrounds. I am happy to see more constituencies outside Sengkang starting to roll out mentorship programmes.
Could we therefore start to publish detailed information annually on the progress made towards admitting students from a more diverse background, so that we know if our efforts are paying off? This would also make it easier for our fellow Singaporeans to measure the success of and thus understand moves, such as relocating popular schools out of central Singapore, in an effort to be more inclusive.
We could also move to have our alumni more heavily involved in advising current or even prospective students into our popular schools and IHLs, not because there is a benefit to be gained, but because they wish to genuinely share the benefit of their life experience with younger fellow Singaporeans.
Moving on to enrichment programmes, it is true that MOE, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and other agencies are working towards increasing access to tuition. While a good start, these programmes typically focus on more academic programmes, and leave students from lower-income families still unable to attend robotics or AI classes, forest school, for example, and other types of holiday camps which have proven to be equally if not more beneficial for children’s holistic development. This would be especially important in today’s fast-changing environment, where the ability to pass examinations is only part of a measure of life success.
We also need to think outside of the box and go beyond the traditional smaller scale tutoring system. We should also take a leaf out of the book of heavily-tutored countries like South Korea, whose Educational Broadcasting System holds highly accessible lectures for high school students preparing for university admissions examinations. It was estimated that this service significantly reduced spending on private tutoring by 816 billion won back in 2011.
Ministry of Education
28 February 2023