Our thought process throughout the P1 registration journey

P1 registration is such an emotive affair.

As parents, we all have hopes and dreams for our children. 天下父母心,大多也不就是望子成龙、望女成凤。

As we grew up, we formed our impressions of certain schools, from the individuals we met from those schools, or perhaps the school’s reputation, and consciously or otherwise, wished we were from these schools.

Our current primary school priority system incorporates a legacy phase, where places are inherited. A birthright, so to speak.

Mr KY Lee himself admitted, in a 2010 Straits Times interview:

“At the primary stage, the choice is not made in a uniform way. You have a brother there or sister there, your father or mother is an alumnus, and so on.

So it’s not meritocratic; it’s based on the social class of your parents, whether they went into better schools.”

He did qualify that:

The important thing is that at Primary 6, there should be a sorting out. And those who missed going to the good (primary) schools should get into better secondary schools.

That’s what we’re aiming to do: Regardless of who your father or mother was or is, we go by your performance.”

Why the hang-up about “good schools”? Most parents (probably rightfully) believe that a better school would increase a child’s chances of getting into a better secondary school. Positive peer influence (arguably more abundant in better schools), and a ‘good’ primary school’s emphasis on academic excellence, are two other factors for the mad rush towards a handful of schools.

However, lately I have been hearing that many good schools are producing stellar PSLE results, more because of parental efforts in paying for elite enrichment tuition, rather than it being a straightforward reflection of the quality of the primary schools’ teachers. That in itself is just sad. 

So, right now, a nation that prides itself in being broadly based on meritocracy, has little way of having children start in a primary school purely based on merit, since even the craziest parent would not want to subject their six year old to entrance exams (then again, there are some pretty psycho ones in our society who probably would).

For us, like many parents, we simply tried to do what we thought would be best for our child, within reason. I totally understand and do not think it unreasonable at all for parents to decide to move near a good or branded school, but we eventually decided that we wouldn’t go so far (pun intended).

Some folks say that distance should be parents’ top criteria. It is easy to thus sound very practical and rational, if one is in a neighbourhood flush with branded schools. Say the same if one is in a heartland neighbourhood, and that argument might be more credible.

Most people are free to move house I guess, but certainly not all have that luxury. So the social class disparity perpetuates, if not widens.

In our crazy society (though I hear it is not much different in the UK, Australia, or even in big US cities. And I’m talking about their locals. The phenomenon is multiplied ten-fold if you are referring to the Asian immigrant families there), educational excellence as the path to lifelong success so so widely subscribed to, consciously or otherwise, that I don’t begrudge any parent jumping through flaming circus hoops, much less moving house to get their children in the school of their choice, or have their children travel long distances to the best school they can get into, arising from priority in early phases.

This is not intrinsically wrong. The parents are not mad for not picking any old school nearest their original home. It is totally understandable.

For us, as have-nots (in the realm of ‘good’ primary schools), our kids (and possibly their offspring) will continue not having. (Oh dear, did that sound a bit bitter now? 😛 )

We have thought it through, and try to remind ourselves, that not ensuring that our kids get into certain dream schools, doesn’t quite matter in the light of eternity.

Nurturing fledgling growth is not easy.


In the realm of forever, what matters is that we have been faithful with what we have been entrusted with. The ‘well done, my good and faithful servant’ that is our ultimate desire, will not spring forth from what academic accolades or inherited primary school our kids may achieve.

The irony I suppose, is that I’m grateful to have (meritocratically, ha) made it to a list of illustrious educational institutions, post-primary school.

However, and justifiably so, going to all these wonderful schools and universities doesn’t make a difference to my kids, since placement is not hereditary in most countries, apart from Singapore, putting this particular registration phase in the company of archaic systems like the British peerage.

No matter how deep a sense of belonging I have with regard to my alma maters, or how many generations of my forefathers have attended these institutions, there is no natural conferring of priority placement, as a matter of regulation by any State. The anomaly only applies to Singaporean primary schools.

Will the system change? I doubt it will, not drastically at least. There are too many parties with vested interests. Is it fair? The jury is out on this one, and depends largely on whether you already belong to one camp or the other. (Although a schoolmate who belongs to two elite primary schools, having the GEP to thank – ooh another contentious topic for another day – candidly admitted, ‘Yes, of course it is not fair, but don’t change it! Not until my kid starts school!’ Full marks for honesty, there.)

I can totally understand, and will probably feel the same if I were from a nice primary school.

Whatever it is, for parents who have not started P1 registration, I would say that if you have decided not to pursue entry into a nationally acclaimed ‘good school’, or have not the means to do so, the next best thing is to find a school that fits your child’s learning profile (which you will get a good sense of by K1), talk to many people who know the schools you are considering, and make your choice from there.

Comfort yourself with the thought that you will probably not be subject (and I do mean you, more so than your child) to all manner of stress, evoked by fellow parents, who are likely to be on average more competitive, if they have prioritised getting their child in one of the say, top 30 schools. Someone recently shared that the spelling list for a primary two kid in one of the top 3 schools in the Tampines heartlands, included words like “prolific”, “grief-stricken” and “despondent”. To what end, I ask, to what end…

For certain kids, such schools turn out to be totally wrong for them. As another friend shared, she regretted getting her two kids into this popular SAP school that has been oversubscribed for generations, because her children are struggling with the astronomical standards of Mandarin there.

Fit of child, the values (ethos, as well as culture) of a school (not so much its academic excellence) will probably have more impact on whether a young child has a primary school experience that is memorable for the right reasons. Of course, if the fit is right, an academically stringent school could also be a great experience – I’m sure there are children who thrive in those environments too.

For us, we were fortunate that there was a vastly under-subscribed primary school (more than 100 spaces available at the start of Phase 2C, and still double digit spaces left for 2C supplementary!) a 5 minute drive away, that we could see K fitting into.

The glimpse of the school, its staff and pupils that I caught on registration day, heartened me too. There seems to be a shared focus on the qualities that we value as a family, and I felt an intuitive positive vibe about the whole environment.

To all fellow parents who have gone through P1 Registration this year, big hugs all round! To all who don’t have a straightforward plan for upcoming registrations, all the best! May lots of wisdom and peace be with you.


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  2 comments for “Our thought process throughout the P1 registration journey

  1. August 6, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Glad K found a great school nearby, almost stress free! I agree on finding a school to suit our child’s profile, but the herd mentality sometimes make our decisions too irrational. Ha. It’s my time next year, I can already see my hair starting to thin.

    • August 6, 2014 at 10:21 am

      Yup, the saddest situations are when the parents buy a $2m home, or do 100 hours of PV to get that coveted space, only for junior to get utterly burnt out or have a miserable childhood. But hopefully that doesn’t happen too often.

      You’ll be ok! Consider all the aspects, make a decision and pray for peace.

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