Withholding of Certificates

Published Date: 06 January 2020 12:00 AM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Dr Teo Ho Pin, Bukit Panjang

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) over the last three years, how many students' graduation certificates have been withheld by schools; (b) what are the common reasons for withholding the certificates; and (c) whether the Ministry will review such practices.


Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Mountbatten

Question

To ask the Minister for Education whether the Ministry will review the policy of withholding the original PSLE certificate of students who have not paid their school fees.


Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Mountbatten

Question

To ask the Minister for Education what are the actions taken by a school when a student is unable to make payment of the school fees and under what circumstances will financial assistance be granted to the student.


Response

1. I have shared my views on this issue with several members of public who wrote to me. One of the replies has been posted online and reported by the media. I do not have a lot to add, but let me reiterate some of the key points.

2. The monthly cash payment for primary schools is - $6.50 for miscellaneous fees, with another $6.50 which is payable by Edusave. So out of pocket expenses on fees is $6.50.

3. The amount is low because school education is highly subsidised. But a small payment is still required, to demonstrate that as parents and families, we have a part to play. In fact, most families take this payment very seriously, and it inculcates in children the value of commitment and playing our part, however small.

4. Many of us in the House will remember our school days when we queued up to pay miscellaneous fees to our form teacher. In my case, it was $3 per month. My teacher would always remind me that what we paid was not enough to buy chalk, but still we should do our part. I would then collect the chit – a different colour for each month – and show it to my parents. I think that whole ritual had inculcated some good values in many students, and certainly me.

5. Notwithstanding, some parents accumulate arrears for various reasons. I do not agree with the view that this is because MOE and schools are uncaring. Quite the contrary, schools and teachers are often in the frontline of reaching out to students from vulnerable families and assisting them, including paying home visits and bringing the children to schools.

6. Some of us in our community work come across such families, and wonder why assistance has not been extended to them and whether we are doing enough outreach. But please remember we are all part of the solution, and cannot place the onus solely on schools and teachers. When we know of such cases, surface them to the school, or our community partners, and help will be extended to them. Parents can step forward and request for help if they need financial assistance.

7. There is a view that it is difficult to apply for financial assistance in school. However, the application process is not difficult. When families need assistance, teachers and staff would help in filling up the forms.

8. MOE's Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) covers not just the school and miscellaneous fees, but also meals, uniforms, textbooks and transport – a large portion of the form is in fact to tick the menu of assistance required. Further, if parents produce a ComCare approval letter, MOE FAS will be automatically granted without the need for any further supporting documents. If one child is granted the MOE FAS, the child's siblings in our schools will automatically benefit from FAS too.

9. If after all the above steps have been taken and the parents still accumulate arrears, that is when the original PSLE results slip will be withheld as a last resort. The child will still apply to secondary school and progress like everyone else. Schools are also sensitive about this when distributing the results slip, and will make sure that everyone gets their results the same way.

10. But I accept the feedback that the child who receives a copy of his results slip instead of the original may feel awkward or embarrassed, through no fault of his. We do not want the children to bear responsibility for the arrears accumulated by their parents.

11. Further, the current practice of withholding the original results slip may not be fully effective in urging all parents to pay miscellaneous fees. Every year, about 2% of cohort who are still accumulating arrears, and did not apply for MOE financial assistance, are affected. In 2019, this works out to 645 students.

12. MOE will therefore review the practice, while continuing to underscore the responsibilities of families to pay a small miscellaneous fee. The review will be concluded in time for the release of 2020's PSLE results.

13. Incidentally, I checked on the child in question which had triggered public attention on this issue. The school had reached out to the parents earlier, given them the FAS application form and brochure, but the parents did not apply. On the day of the PSLE results, she had received her results in the same way as everyone else, except hers was a copy. Teachers did not observe her to feel embarrassed or emotionally affected. She has since been successfully placed in a secondary school of her choice near her home. The parents have submitted the FAS form, and she is receiving assistance.

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