I delivered the following speech in Parliament on 8 October 2014.
Madam Speaker, I wish to declare that I run businesses that offer education services to students.
This bill will ensure that all Singaporean citizens aged seven to 16 who are not enrolled in mainstream schools will now also receive the $200-$240 yearly Edusave contributions by the government. News reports have estimated that 20,000 more children will benefit from this.
I believe this is a strong signal to tell Singaporeans that there are many education pathways, and Singapore children who have chosen to be enrolled in Madrasahs and other religious schools, private schools and home schools or are studying overseas are part of Singapore and deserve access to the funds that are meant for use for activities to enrich their minds.
The scheme, popularly known as Edusave was designed to provide yearly funds to students in mainstream schools to allow parents to use the moneys to pay for enrichment activities for their children in programmes that are approved by the schools. Autonomy has been given to the schools to decide what activities are best suited for the students. This is something that is useful as schools can bring in programmes that extend on their niches or programmes that they believe are best for their students.
Over the years, students have used their Edusave moneys for many sorts of programmes such as speech and drama, sports, learning expeditions and camps, and even for overseas trips.
Enrichment programmes offered through mainstream schools are often very competitively priced, as there is economy of scale from having a large number of students. Facilities within the schools are not charged to these service providers, so fees are much lower than that of similar programmes offered in venues outside of the schools that have to pay commercial rents. The enrichment providers sometimes also offer other type of programmes and services to the schools outside of Edusave funding, so there’s incentive for these providers to be as competitive as they can to sell a continuous stream of services to the schools.
While the same amount of funding per child is now available to children in religious and private schools and those that are home-schooled, enrichment providers will not rush to offer services to them as the scale of business is small. Granted that depending on rules that MOE will establish, those that are home schooled can attend enrichment courses by commercial providers individually, the costs are a lot higher per hour of learning. Hence, the yearly $200-$240 Edusave contribution that a student will receive will not go far. More importantly, there will be the missing social emotional learning elements of learning together in a large group.
I’d like to suggest that MOE can look at having schools open up participation of edusave-funded enrichment courses in their schools to those that are home schooled or in the smaller religious and private schools nearby.
I’d like to suggest that this can be a nationwide effort coordinated through MOE. Selected schools spread throughout Singapore can be satellite centres to partner with students that are in the religious schools, smaller private schools and home schools. Enrichment courses offered in the schools, especially those that are Edusave funded can be extended to these external students. This will foster interaction through joint programmes which will help develop the social and emotional learning of those outside of mainstream schools while helping students in the mainstream school better understand their peers learning under a different education system. It will also provide some form of common education experience for both groups of students.
Madam, the idea may sound radical but I believe it is doable. Some schools have on their own initiative, fostered partnerships with communities in their neighbourhood, including with disadvantaged children. I believe we can have a more structured approach on enrichment programmes to have schools partner on regular basis with neighbourhood children outside of mainstream schools. This will give more value to the Edusave contributions that the government is now giving to this new group of beneficiaries. I hope MOE can study the feasibility of this proposal.
Madam Speaker, I support the Bill. Thank you.