Forum Letter Replies

March 11, 2015

Ensuring Supplementary Items Are Meaningful and Affordable

We refer to Madam Sek Ah Yan’s letter, “Shouldn’t pricey supplementary items for school be subsidised?”, on 2 March 2015, and Mr Joshua Chia’s letter “When CCA vendors benefit at parents’ expense”, on 5 March 2015.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) shares their concerns. All school contracts with vendors and coaches awarded from this year specifically disallow them from offering similar services or equipment to students and their parents. Parents should clarify with the school on the need for additional services or items before making these purchases. MOE will work with schools to ensure that appointed coaches and vendors adhere to their contractual terms.

To enhance the learning experience of our students, our schools have the discretion to provide meaningful enrichment and supplementary programmes. We are mindful that any co-payments should remain affordable to parents. Students can pay for these from their Edusave accounts. In addition, schools will further subsidise or even fully pay for students from less advantaged backgrounds through the Opportunity Fund.

Mr Wong Kang Jet
Director
Finance and Development Division
Ministry of Education

Shouldn’t pricey supplementary items for school be subsidised? (Sek Ah Yan, Today Voices Online, 2/3)

Recently, my child came home with a letter from his school that listed co-curricular activity (CCA) items to be bought, totalling about S$100. Last year, we spent about S$60 on another item.

My first concern is that such purchases are normally made through the vendors conducting the CCA. Is there not a conflict of interest when these vendors have made arrangements with the external agencies to supply bulk purchases for their students?

The teachers in charge, because of lack of expertise, usually agree with the recommendations made by the CCA conductors and coaches.

My second concern is that parents are left with no choice when schools simply inform them to buy whatever the coaches and conductors request.

However, in my case, I find those items unnecessary, as there are simpler, cheaper ways to train my child for his CCA.

But in order not to put him in a difficult position, we agreed to the school’s requests.

My third concern is that schools and educators are relying more on expensive gadgets to perform simple tasks. For example, are e-dictionaries really better than the hard copies? How about spending S$25 on an incentive spirometer only to train breathing?

Finally, at an age when they have to spend sparingly, it makes it tougher to instil a sense of thrift in children and educate them about the worth of money, especially when schools and educators do not share such values.

We pay for subscriptions to e-learning platforms and buy newspapers to supplement learning in schools. If many other items are needed to supplement classroom learning or CCAs, should not the schools or the Ministry of Education pay for or subsidise these?

 

When CCA vendors benefit at parents’ expense (Joshua Chia, Today Voices, 5/3, p24)

I share Madam Sek Ah Yan’s view in “Shouldn’t pricey supplementary items for school be subsidised?” (March 2).

My son is in his primary school’s badminton team. The school has engaged an external vendor to conduct the badminton co-curricular activity (CCA), which is not uncommon in schools today.

At the start of the school term, the coach gave out forms for an enrichment course, which would come at a cost and would be conducted by the coach on weekends or after school hours.

I am uncomfortable with this arrangement, as the coach may have a vested interest to encourage the pupils to sign up for the course.

Also, I am unsure whether or not the coach will let pupils who signed up have more opportunities to play in the schools tournament and pay more attention to them during the CCA period.

If the pupils are already in the school team, why is there a need for the enrichment course?

It should be targeted only at those who are not in the team and wish to learn badminton, to minimise any conflict of interest, since the same vendor is conducting the CCA.

That would also provide a level playing field for pupils in the team who did not sign up for the enrichment class for whatever reasons.

In my era, CCA enrichment programmes were uncommon or unheard of, and coaches would do their best to ensure the pupils improve their skills.

The authority should probe such arrangements where an unnecessary enrichment course may be beneficial to external coaches/vendors at the expense of parents.