(This is an updated version of the article that first appeared on Smartification)
In 2013, the principal from Jurong West Secondary School asked a daring question during a discussion at an education forum on the topic of making every school a good one.
“How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it),” she was quoted as saying in The Straits Times. Her question went viral on social media and she was even hailed a ‘hero’.
Since that incident, there has been a divide between IP schools and non-IP schools. Many parents wonder why they should send their child to an IP school. If every school is a good school and all the teachers are just as qualified, is it really worth the hassle of going through the Direct School Admissions (DSA) process and spending huge amount of money on tuition lessons to ensure a high T-score in the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE)?
First let me clarify the statement by former Education Minister Heng Siew Keat. When he used his now famous tagline, what he really meant was that every school in Singapore is a good school because each school can nurture a student to perform his/her best; the teachers are supportive and caring; parents are willing to work hand in hand with the school/teachers to motivate the students to succeed. Minister Heng was not talking about academic excellence! Therefore the attraction of IP schools is offering all of the above including the assurance of academic excellence. It is this component that parents are most concern about thereby making IP schools extremely attractive to many.
If you are still not convinced that IP schools are the better choice, here are 5 reasons for your consideration.
- Low Student-Teacher Ratio in the classroom
IP schools have an average of 25 students per class. Why are small classes important? Small classes ensure that your child will not be lost in the crowd or fall through the crack. Non-IP schools have an average of 40 students per class. The heavier workload will make it difficult for teachers to reach out to students who need more help. Students in IP schools come from the top 10% of the Primary 6 cohort each year and the learning structure in these schools is self-directed learning. This means that should a student have any difficulty, the form teacher will have time to help the student in need.
Using Temasek Junior College as an example, the school practices the following to ensure that their students will succeed in their programme:
“TJC prides itself for a warm environment and a caring culture. In Year 3, we dedicate 2 form teachers to each class of a small class size of not more than 25 students to engage them at a more in depth and personal level to better understand their development needs. Our student welfare team consisting of full time counsellors and a strong team of teacher counsellors work together closely to ensure that students are provided with effective support to handle the rigour and demand of the programme.’ (http://www.temasekjc.moe.edu.sg/home/4-year-integrated-programme/faqs-on-tjc-4-year-integrated-programme)
- Professional Development for Teachers
NIE has been doing a good job training and preparing teachers. The problem is teachers in non-IP schools do not have a choice as to which schools they are placed. The stress level of these teachers are high and the high turnover rate reflects that too. Many teachers become disillusioned after a while and some good teachers leave for the private sector to set up tuition centres or provide tuition services. IP schools on the other hand are allowed to recruit their own teachers. As such you can find highly qualified teachers from Singapore and other foreign countries teaching at these schools. Teachers are hired based on qualification, experience, competence and passion for the subjects they will teach.
Some of these schools also provide and encourage professional development through foreign universities for their teachers as with the case of Hwa Chong Institution. HCI runs a Graduate School of Education for their teachers offering Masters of Education and Doctorates of Education in collaboration with The University of Western Australia. (http://www.hci.edu.sg/about/careers/3)
- Unmatched Facilities
Although the Singapore Government spends a lot of money on education by upgrading all the schools, the money allocated to each school is not always the same amount. No one can deny that IP schools have the best facilities. The money to build these facilities do not come just from the government but also from donations. Their libraries house the widest range of books and research materials that rival any public libraries. They use the latest technologies in the classroom to enhance learning. They have first class sporting facilities with some of the best coaches to manage the sporting programmes. CCA is also a major part of IP schools and they offer the widest array of activities for the students to participate in. Raffles Institution, for example, boasts the following facilities:
“At Raffles Institution, our students are provided with state-of-the-art facilities – both for academic and non-academic pursuits. Our facilities include:
- 6 Lecture Theatres (LTs)
- Computer laboratory with 40 workstations
- Fully-equipped gymnasium
- 2 Libraries with over 105000 items
- Media Studio
- Olympic-sized swimming pool
- Performing Arts Centre
- Running track with field
- Students’ Lounge
- Wireless campus”
- A Holistic Education
Not having to take the O’levels frees students from mugging for a national exam thus having more time to learn life skills. This can take the form of elective studies such as philosophy, psychology, social etiquette, public speaking, leadership, character development, problem solving just to name a few. More time can also be spent on participating in competitions from sports to academic. Students are also given opportunities to plan events for schools and their communities which teaches them responsibility and empathy.
Cedar Girls’ Secondary for example, requires secondary 4 students in the IP Programme to work during a gap month. Students are required to apply for internship with a local company and work for a period of one month. This exposes them to the working world from a young age. They will learn about the importance of having a good education, the difficulty of earning a living and the responsibility of working hard.
- Entry to Top JC followed by a place in University.
Being in an IP school means that your place in a first tier Junior College is more or less guaranteed. Although there have been cases of students who did not succeed in an IP programme, the numbers are relatively small. These students are instead coached to sit for the O’Levels and later move on to Polytechnics or second tier Junior Colleges and eventually to local and overseas Universities.
For those who enter the first tier Junior Colleges, majority move on to Ivy-League Universities overseas or enter Law and Medical Faculties in NUS. Many receive scholarships too. Some students from RJC and HCI were given a place in overseas universities even before they received their A’level results. These schools also provide education councilors to advice students on completing University applications.
Beyond the 5 reasons I have shared with you, there are more I have not mentioned. For me personally, a holistic education that does not follow the standard Singapore education system allows our children to compete better in a competitive society like Singapore.
However as parents we must be realistic and allow our children to progress at their own pace. Success comes to those who are willing to work hard and it does not always have to be through an IP school.
As long as you choose the school that best fits the learning ability of your child, with caring teachers and a great learning environment, success will most likely be the outcome.
To listen to Minister Heng Siew Keat’s speech in Parliament, go to this link: https://youtu.be/tHS7PWnxc6s
Jackeline Carter is the author of ‘Success Strategies for Direct School Admissions DSA’. She is the Founder of J Carter Centre for Public Speaking offering courses in DSA preparation and communication skills for children, teens and adults in Singapore. For more tips on DSA preparation or to enroll in our communication workshops and courses, you may ‘Like’ our facebook page: www.facebook.com/dsasuccess or visit http://jcartercentre.com/