Selecting a primary school is potentially a daunting mission! Parents feel the need to make the best decision of their lives because it is the first official step in a child’s learning process. The child might not be able to fully understand the importance of the education journey, so parents also do not have the luxury of a complete consultation with the child. To add on to the worries, six years is a long duration and takes up pretty much most of the child’s legally mandated education in Singapore.
Here are some key points to note, from our point of view as professional educators and full time parents (we try our best!).
1) All primary schools are the same, yet unique.
While the Ministry of Education proposes all schools are good schools, it is challenging to quantify and qualify the adjective “good”. So instead of trying to classify schools as “good” or otherwise, we choose to focus on the unique strengths of each primary school.
Why do we say that all primary schools are the same, yet unique? This requires a bit of explanation about the ins and outs of the Singapore Education System. All teachers are selected through interviews with MOE. They go through training at NIE National Institute of Education, then they are allocated to schools based on school needs. Typically, the teacher’s subject combination factors highly in the allocation. So if the school needs an English teacher, the Ministry will try to allocate one. Most primary school teachers are trained in EMS – the core subjects English Mathematics Science. Some have specialisations in Art or Physical Education. Sometimes even the teacher’s residence address would mean that he or she is deployed to a school nearby for the first official teaching assignment. As for seasoned teachers and other positions like Head of Departments, depending on the situation, teachers can move around voluntarily or through Ministry allocation.
Deployment of key school leaders, in particular Principals, change every 5 or 6 years. There will be an official press release detailing the rotation and assignment of Principals to the schools. The Principal is a key figure in determining the school's vision, policies and work culture. That being said, schools with longer histories typically have some strong school traditions and customs.
When discussing primary schools, this means schools are the same as they all receive teaching staff from NIE and are subject to the rules and regulations of MOE. Each school however will have its special characteristics, some of which were born from the background of the school set up, location, so on and so forth. There is also some fluidity in terms of how the school might be run. It could be due to a change in the school leadership, or some autonomy exercised by teachers in the individual classrooms.
2) School Values and Culture
For some families, the school motto and culture are of utmost importance. What does the school stand for? Does it have a history of advocating certain values? How do the school’s programmes exemplify those belief systems? All schools have their own presentation of these value systems. All schools aim to teach positively, and the staff should be on board in the modelling and nurturing of these values. It is up to us to consider and select the schools that match our preferences and inclinations.
Find out more about the CCAs and supporting enrichment programmes available in the primary school. Some of them might appeal to the kids, and interest truly is the starting point for the blossoming of talent and character. If your child is already showing certain inclinations, such as participating in a kids’ dance club, a primary school that offers a similar activity would be an excellent choice.
4) Location and Convenience
It is a well-known fact that Singapore’s primary school allocation system hinges largely on distance. Hence, living near the school of your choice, or selecting schools within your residential area, would be wise. Apart from the systemic advantage (details of which can be easily found on the MOE website), primary school students are very young charges who require our time and attention. These young children would also find it tough to travel long distances. Consider the options carefully. Can they walk quickly to school? Is school bus service too expensive or maybe the pick up timing is not suitable? What happens if we need after-school care? Is the student care in house or outside the school?
Find out more in these ways
1) Official websites like MOE school information system and school websites
2) Visit during Open House
3) Talk to students and parents from the school
4) Online reviews in forums or social media applications
Food for thought: Do the historical results matter?
The name of the school might draw some initial excitement, yet ultimately it is only a perceived quality. On the surface, some primary schools may seem more academically inclined and the students are said to do well in their results. While we as private educators believe that a properly thought out system can truly help the children to shine academically, this is not restricted to the schools with a stronger public presence. In our line of work, we have seen students from all kinds of backgrounds, of various character traits, working their best and achieving their best. It is important to remember that primary schools are a special part of our education journey because the students entered the schools due to non-academic reasons (we don’t use placement tests, unlike some private schools in other countries). Each batch of primary school students are therefore special and pretty much mixed in terms of academic abilities from the onset. Given the changes aplenty in our national schools, results of the previous cohorts neither prove nor guarantee the development of the younger ones who enter at Primary 1.
At the heart of a public education system, there is no guaranteed correlation between name and quality. What fits one child and family might be a poor match for another. While we may find feedback from others useful, ultimately we have to make a child-centred decision.