Gaming the P1 registration system: Plugging gaps could result in a system bordering ‘on the absurd’

Gaming the P1 registration system: Plugging gaps could result in a system bordering ‘on the absurd’

Channel NewsAsia·2018-02-18 17:35

Catching a parent for lying about their address could be tough, former teachers tell Channel NewsAsia. And the fact that parents are willing to break the law to get their child into a popular primary school is telling of the stress parents face.

File photo of students at a primary school.

SINGAPORE: Registering a child for Primary 1 can be a laborious process due to the amount of checking and documentation required for the various phases of the Primary 1 Registration Exercise. And implementing stricter measures to ensure no parent gets away with lying about their address could border “on the absurd”, former teachers told Channel NewsAsia.

This follows a recent case of a couple who was fined S$9,000 for lying about their address to get their child into a popular primary school in Bishan. 

The parents had used a fake address in the Bishan area to register their child for Primary 1 at the school under Phase 2C of the registration exercise, which gives priority to families living within one kilometre of a school. The family had, in fact, lived at a bungalow in Serangoon Gardens. 

One former primary school teacher who wished to be known only as Ms Ang said in her experience, a lot of checking and documentation is required in the registration process. Parents would have to fill up registration forms, and come prepared with various supporting documents like identity cards, birth certificates and immunisation records.

“We would have to check all these, and also their address on the IC, to make sure it falls within the one to two-kilometre mark to qualify them for Phase 2C,” she said. “I’ve come across some parents that have no idea about such things ... the documents they are supposed to bring, or their address could be just outside of the two-kilometre mark, and they will try and appeal.”

Changing one’s residential address on the IC can be done at any neighbourhood police post or at the Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) Building, according to criminal lawyer and director of Straits Law Practice LLC, S Balamurugan. He explained that hardcopy documentary evidence of one’s new address is required, like a bill, statement or letter from HDB, a credit card or bank statement or a utilities bill from Singapore Power.

One could also request online for a pre-notification letter from the ICA, which will mail a letter to the new residential address within seven working days, he added. This can then be used as documentary evidence of the new address.

“One security measure is the requirement of providing hardcopy documentary evidence,” he said. “As the ICA will give out an address sticker for pasting on your IC, it may be possible that some may print out their own sticker to paste on their IC.”

DIFFICULT TO CATCH PARENTS LYING ABOUT THEIR ADDRESS

With the amount of paperwork and verification already required at the schools upon registration, Ms Ang stressed that going above and beyond the existing safeguards to catch errant parents who lie about their address would be difficult.

“What more can they do? You can’t possibly be interviewing neighbours for every child, or (get) CCTV footage ... Does that mean everyone would need to submit that? It would be a tall order,” she said. “I think the existing system of checks is really as far as it can go, and if it goes beyond that, that would really border on the absurd for parents.”

She suggested that in the Bishan case, it was possible that the parents’ action may have come to light upon questioning of the child.

“If you want to lie about your address, you’ll have to prepare everyone involved, including the child, and children of that age are empty vessels,” she said. “Or maybe it was just a harmless activity, where maybe the child had to write their address down in a lesson, and they realised it wasn’t a match.”

Alternatively, another former primary school teacher pointed out that the parents could also have been caught if someone who knew of what they were doing had blown the whistle on them.

“Maybe someone tried to sabotage them,” said the teacher, who taught in a popular boys’ school. “They may have let the school know that the parent had lied about their address, and that could have been the trigger for the school to investigate.”

“Otherwise, it's really very hard to catch these people,” the teacher added. “If you really want to take the time to check everything in detail, the registration process would take even longer, and I don’t know if the schools are willing to go through all this.”

It is not known how such cases are investigated, but the Ministry of Education (MOE) had earlier said that it views the use of false addresses during the Primary 1 Registration Exercise as a serious matter, and will refer any suspected cases to the police. It added that there have been fewer than 10 reported cases in the last 10 years.  

In this particular case, it was reported that the parents have 14 days to appeal against their sentences. In cases where the verdict is finalised and the parents are convicted of the charge, the child who was previously registered in a school based on false information would be transferred to another school with available vacancies. MOE was not able to provide a further update to this case. 

Students boarding a school bus in Singapore. (File photo: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY)

While Straits Law Practice’s Mr Balamurugan has not personally come across such cases, he pointed out a few that were reported. In 2007, a former lawyer was jailed two months for providing a false address to enroll his daughter in a top primary school. And in 2015, a man was fined the maximum S$5,000 for doing the same thing.

“Previous cases of parents who have provided false addresses have come to light when officers from MOE visited the false addresses,” he said. “Given that the punishment for falsifying one’s address can be an imprisonment term and much publicity of such cases now, it appears that the penalties can act as sufficient deterrence on the parents.”

“Perhaps criminal prosecution can be initiated against home owners who accept payment or favour in exchange for their address for parents who intend to enroll their children in schools which they would not have gotten without the falsification,” he added. “In addition, parents should give an undertaking that a child who gains priority admission into a school would be required to reside at the address until Primary 6 unless there are exceptional reasons.”

"THE ONES WHO BROKE THE LAW MUST BE REALLY DESPERATE"

But despite the fact that these parents ran afoul of the law, some parents Channel NewsAsia spoke to understood why they may have resorted to this.

“Though what they did was quite extreme, I can emphathise with them,” said a parent of two boys in a school in Bishan who wished only to be identified as Mrs Chan. “When we were signing up, a lot of people were saying things like ''What if your child cannot get into a good school?' So even if you don’t feel anything from the start ... it adds a lot of undue stress for the parents.”

“Parents will definitely try to do the best they can for their kids,” said another parent, Kende Chew. “It’s sad, but I’m not surprised.”

Sociologists pointed out that the parents’ actions are reflective of the large amount of stress they face in putting their child through the education system. 

“Parents are probably under the impression that getting into a reputable school is critical to their child’s future,” said associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore Tan Ern Ser. “The ones who broke the law must be really desperate, thinking that their child’s future is at stake.

“It could also be a matter of pride, in the sense that they would lose face if their child can’t get into a reputable school.”

“Some parents may be engrossed in ideas about what constitutes a good or top school, even when there is no official ranking as such,” added lecturer G Kaveri from the Singapore University of Social Sciences’ (SUSS) School of Human Development and Social Services. “There are also certain labels that continue to exist among many parents about schools and the results they can produce, and an obsession towards product-based, results-oriented education.”

Singapore Management University sociology professor Paulin Straughan also pointed out that these parents’ actions, coupled with other “tell-tale signs” like parents’ pre-occupation with enrichment lessons, reflects that there may be too much at stake in national examinations like the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

“The perception is that if you don’t do well at the PSLE and you don’t get streamed to your desired school, you won’t have the kind of opportunities to rise to your potential,” she explained. “The difference after PSLE is quite startling, because you get your IP schools, your independent schools, and then it’s down the stacking order.

“So parents feel that if you don’t do everything you can in the formative years of their education – which is really primary school – once they cross over into secondary school and they’re in this traditionally feared stage of teenage rebellion, they want their children to be in an environment which they consider safe.”  

The role parents play is critical in helping their children manage stress, embrace failure and accept disappointment. (Photo: Pixabay)

One factor that is often overlooked is the role of the family in the child's development.

Senior lecturer Sirene Lim from SUSS’ School of Human Development and Social Services said: “A teacher has to work with 30 to 40 children in a class within a limited amount of time, and it is impossible for him or her to educate each child the way that parents are able to,” adding that research is beginning to uncover the importance of a quality home learning environment as a predictor of a child’s success in school and later in life.

“Such findings increasingly reveal that it is not parents’ education or socio-economic status that matter most in predicting a child’s academic success, but it is what parents do and say on a daily basis that can better predict a child’s language and mathematical learning in school.”

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