Singapore has a world renowned public education system. We are ranked 1st in Mathematics and Sciences in a 40 year study by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development. The Economic Intelligence Unit ranked us 3rd in the world for our education system. But make no mistake, its statistical success does not make it the magical solution to every child’s educational needs. Just like every other nation, Singapore’s children are not homogenous, and to assume that every Singaporean child can thrive in the regimental, academically-intensive and competitive public school system, is both naive and dangerous to Singapore’s development.
Apart from the Independent, Autonomous and Government Schools available, alternative pathways of education are rarely adopted by Singaporeans. However, there is a growing community of parents choosing to homeschool their children. There are a number of reasons to believe that parents have a right to homeschool their children.
The first of which is that some children might have different needs. A child with ADHD would find it extremely difficult to participate in a rigid public school system that requires him to sit in the same seat for hours on end. A child with Dyslexia might require special attention from his teacher to understand English class, but that same teacher has 30 other students to cater for. Unfortunately in Singapore, special needs schools with teachers specially trained to deal with such issues are few and far between or often underfunded and hence difficult to access. Furthermore, parents might be afraid of the stigma that the child faces in a community that looks down on his disability. Parents are legitimate in hoping that their children can grow up without having people look at their them differently when walking home from school because of the school crest found on their uniform.
The second reason is that parents might have different wants when it comes to the direction of their child’s education. This mostly applies to parents whom wish that their children have a religious-centric education. Many communal religious schools such as Madrasahs and the Convent of Holy Infant Jesus schools in Singapore, teach mainstream doctrines of their respective religions and hence might not be accurate to the religious perspectives of parents and their families. Furthermore, Singapore is a secular state which promises religious freedom for all. Part of this religious freedom includes the right to make religion an integral part of your child’s education. If unattainable by the school system, parents should be allowed to utilise homeschool to create a religious-centric syllabus for their child.
The third reason could simply be out of preference. Not every child succeeds when pressurised. Many children crumble under immense amounts of stress, and to pull them out of a system that makes them vulnerable is the first step in preserving their interest in learning. Even local celebrities, Darren Lim and Evelyn Tan, have chosen to homeschool their children, stating “more freedom and flexibility” as their main reasons. This is to say, that every child will always be different. As fine-tuned as Singapore’s education system is and regardless of whatever attempts made at trying to cater to the vast majority of students in Singapore, some children will be left out. The question is whether we should nevertheless force them through the factory production line or allow them to create their own pathway to educational success.
The problem thus lies in the fact that Singapore’s government places many restrictions and barriers of entry for parents wishing to homeschool their children. Rights are only meaningful if they can be exercised and the corollary instrumental rights are present. Honestly, to say that Singaporean’s have a right to homeschool their children but bombard them with levels of bureaucracy to the point where this right is almost impossible to exercise in reality is an insult to our intelligence. What exactly does the government require of parents?
First and foremost, the application process is ridiculously arduous. Stacks upon stacks of large ring files need to be submitted to the Ministry of Education, showing the educational qualifications of parents and a detailed explanation of the intended syllabus for the child in each individual subject and other important documents like timetables. The amount of time needed before the application is approved can also be incredulously long as well. Many parents have complained on public forums that they've seen the infamous response, “We will get back to you soon” for years before their application is approved.
Secondly, the government requires that all homeschooled children take part in the national Primary School Leaving Examination at the age of 12 (along with students of the same age in public schools). The passing grade of homeschooled children however, is much higher than the main cohort and if they fail, they will have to continuously take the examination again up till the point that they pass. Otherwise, they would be forced back into public education. Recently, the government introduced a further test for homeschooled children when they are at the equivalent age of a Primary 4 student, 10 years old. These tests are to “track the progress” of children, but the focus on examination is a massive disruption to the overall syllabus that parents have specially crafted for their children. Many parents choose homeschooling to escape the test-centric public education system, it makes no sense to demand those same things again. Many parents have to dedicate an entire year purely to train their children to the test just so that they can overcome this obstacle, whilst rendering the uniquely developed arc of education for the child ineffective.
Of course, some degree of check and balance to ensure that homeschooled children are on the right track is important, but is all of this really necessary? And is a one-time test at the age of 10/12 where the child has barely started the specific syllabus a good indicator of their long term success? It is extremely dubious as to whether this is an earnest attempt at caring for homeschooled children or a devious ploy to coerce parents out of homeschooling. It wouldn’t be surprising that a state so adamant about their educational success, feels the need to maintain an egotistical premium of their brand of education. You might think I'm an irrational, paranoid critic of the government, but the point I’m making is simple: an educated mind cannot be one contained within a classroom, and sometimes it must never be in a classroom.