Is Phase 2A elitist?

The recent announcement that Henry Park Primary (HPPS) and Ai Tong (ATS) had barely 9 and 14 seats left respectively after Phase 2A of the registration exercise this year, left many parents reeling, not least those who were hoping to fight for a place in Phases 2B and 2C.

It also signals that matters have come to a head, where 96-97% of these schools (with 300-330 spaces each, i.e. more than the average) are taken up by siblings or children of ex-students. For the alumni phase at least, the numbers will only increase, since with each passing year, more and more students are added to the ranks of alumni. At HPPS, 42% of places this year were taken up under Phase 2A. For ATS, 44%. For Red Swastika, 40%. For Nanyang Primary, 38%.

Will this year’s shocking statistic finally tip the balance, and result in some change to Phase 2A?  Friends I know who have gotten their kids in though this phase, or are hoping to, really hope not.

Detractors of Phase 2A are mostly those without the benefit of alumni links to their desired schools. In an issue like this, few have no vested interests, and can truly say their piece as impartial observers.

To start with a disclaimer, the hubs and I will not be registering our kids in the primary schools we attended.  His school is not near our home, nor either of our parents’.  My school had closed down, and the school it apparently merged with another to form, is no eye candy.

The school we hope our daughters can get in is not a very hot school. Not even in the top 25. It’s a mission school, and near our parents’ home, so we figured moving over probably makes sense. There are plenty of spaces left for 2B and 2C, though there might be balloting in Phase 2C (either in the 1-2km range or the >2km range).  The number of spaces taken up by alumni in that school has not been overwhelming either, in the past few years.

Hence, I’m not personally embittered by Phase 2A.

However, most would probably agree that the only phase no one can have a beef about, is Phase 1.  Which gives siblings priority, a most rational basis. Anyone agitating for the abolishment of this phase is just slightly nutty. ‘Nuff said.

But when it comes to Phase 2A, the fight gets passionate. Those who intend to use it, or even those fortunate few many who have, feel very strongly that there is nothing wrong with granting alumni priority.  They were from the school.  They feel loyal to the school.  All their brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunties have been from the same school and long may this continue.  Those who sign their kids up via 2A have even told me, I’m doing this for future generations you know. It affects not just my kids, but my grandkids too.

Those hoping it gets axed before their (child’s) time rally behind the cry of “elitism!”. Or rather, down with it. Why should it be a birthright, or seen as an entitlement? They argue against what schools these will become, when 40-50% of places go to children of alumni.

To be fair, not all alumni of popular schools belong to the ‘elite’, in terms of net worth or occupational glamour. But undeniably, they have had the opportunity of going to that popular school, and without any action (say the hardworking 2B parents), have their kids breeze through the doors with no threat of balloting (thus far). Is it elitism?

A friend who is intending to put her kid through via Phase 2A, very honestly said, “Well it is elitist, and yes I am elitist.  So there.”  I think she said it in jest, but there you have it.

Most other friends who are also banking on 2A to save them nail-biting anxiety on balloting and whatnot, just want to SHUSH the talk on abolishing this phase.  “Stop talking about it!” they fret.

I guess ultimately, this is subject to policy risk.  The policy might change, and this year’s results in particular might be the last straw that triggers a review.  When talk revolves around abolishing Phase 2A, folks on both sides of the fence recognise just how many people this would anger.  Some say that the government of the day would never dare to offend so many of the powerful and rich.  Personally, I think few of these already vote for them, so if they take this step, I don’t think the marginal number of votes lost will really make much of a difference.

Personally, I think that there will not be a sweeping revamp.  As with all sensitive issues, the way forward is to tweak at the margins, and hope to minimise the fallout.

Perhaps all we can hope for in the meantime, is for places to be split into three equal portions after Phase 1.  Some schools already have 50% of places taken up by Phase 1, which leaves about 16.7% for Phases 2A, 2B and 2C respectively. For a large-ish school with 300 places, that translates to 50 spaces per subsequent Phase. A reasonable amount, when juxtaposed against the 38-44% taken up in Phase 2A for some schools this year, leaving 3-10% for Phases 2B and 2C combined.

This change would mean that Phase 2A in many schools will become oversubscribed, and alumni will have to start balloting based on distance, once again. Some folks say that to qualify, alumni should parent volunteer as well, to translate their expressed bond and affinity towards the school into concrete action.

[Update 2015: With just 20 spaces set aside for Phase 2B and another 20 for Phase 2C from 2014, balloting has already occured at Phase 2A1 in SNGS in 2015, with 78 girls vying for 73 spaces. It was still a 93% chance of getting in, versus a 20% chance at Phase 2C for some schools? I do feel sorry for the 2A1 parents this year who had to ballot, since they were really not expecting it, and had done all they could in paying the alumni fees, etc.

The other question is, why 20 spaces? In a school with 390 spaces such as Nanyang, just reserving 20 in Phase 2C for those living within 1km (but no other connection with the school) to duke it out – how egalitarian is that? Not very; further compounded by the fact that those living within 1km probably paid like dukes for property there.

Should it be a percentage of the school enrollment? If it is 20 spaces for a school with 210 spaces, shouldn’t it be 40 spaces for a school with 390 spaces?

Taken conversely, should elitism be minimised by keeping a maximum of 30% for Phase 2A and 30% for Phase 2B for those with ‘connections’ to the school?

On loyalty and sentimentality, I suppose I could also say that I feel extremely loyal and sentimental about my secondary school, because it has contributed so much to who I am today. It is also one of the top schools in Singapore, and of course I would love for my kids to go there, to walk the corridors I walked, to eat from the same canteen stalls as I. But there is no little chance of that happening because secondary school enrollment is meritocratic. No matter how loyal I am, or how many generations of my forebears attended that school, my kids have no ‘right’, no ‘priority’ in enrollment.

Why then should there be any such priority in primary school? Those who truly believe in progressiveness in society, in leveling society, should all the more argue against Phase 2A priority. Starting a child off in a school with greater resources, a ‘better environment’, peers from a certain segment of society, is somewhat of an advantage, however you look at it. Should all Singaporeans have free access to schools with longer histories, great nurturing environments, etc? Or should it remain a right and privilege to be ‘inherited’?]

What do you think?  What’s the ideal way forward, and what are your personal views of Phase 2A?

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  6 comments for “Is Phase 2A elitist?

  1. July 22, 2013 at 5:54 am

    personally, if one can’t deal with the stress or put in effort to enroll your child into the “branded” school of your choice, SHUSH! cos this is only the start of more stress to come with such schools. if one can’t already handle it, best to try another school!

    • July 23, 2013 at 2:18 am

      I think Singaporean parents are only too keen to go All Out. If they get the chance. 🙂

  2. July 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    quite similar to the situation in HK, we have centrally allocation for school places (public schools and government aided schools) that is very much determined by your living district and then lucky draw. But also private school system ( and many more popular government aided schools are turning to private one ) then they can have total control and selection on student intakes (very much for alumni, connections)though by interviews.

    I guess I have a period quite anxious about the path , but after some time and I guess my sociological way @@ of seeing and knowing, I just do within my reasonable resources and constraints, and I know I couldn’t be that “types” of ideal parents ( with time and investment) and couldn’t afford the school fee for private school. I also think that it is the parents ‘ uneasiness and sense of good feeling about “famous school” that intensify the game ~~ if the kid likes the subjects, he/she would find way to do what he/she wants @@

    • July 23, 2013 at 2:24 am

      Guess in some ways its a boon and in some ways a bane that citizens don’t really have the option of private schools in Singapore.

      Agree with your view that the school is hardly the end all!

  3. August 16, 2013 at 5:35 am

    I finally completed my post on my thoughts on this Phase 2A issue – here it is!

    • August 16, 2013 at 9:02 am

      Good stuff. I wonder what the announcement will be this Sunday…

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