Top Schools In Singapore Receive Funding Cuts? Read Again.

So, The Straits Times (ST) reported on Monday that, “Six top independent schools in Singapore have had their funding cut.”

It also reported that, “The six schools rank among the top in the Singapore education scene, comprising the Raffles secondary schools and its junior college, Hwa Chong Institution, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and NUS High School of Mathematics and Science. They all run both the Integrated Programme (IP) and Gifted Education Programme (GEP). The IP provides a seamless secondary and junior college education with students bypassing the O levels. The GEP caters to students in the top 1 to 2 per cent of their cohort.”

Top Schools Already Receive More Funds than Other Schools

But what The Straits Times didn’t report was that funding for top schools are higher than the other schools in the first place. Thanks to a parliamentary question asked by the Worker’s Party’s Yee Jenn Jong who has been campaigning on education issues, we are able to find out that, “Primary schools hosting the GEP are provided … an annual programme grant of $53 per pupil.

So, in all likelihood, these top independent schools would have also been provided the same (or more) additional grants by the government, on top of what is given to the other schools. What this means is that even if these top independent schools receive funding cuts, if these cuts are smaller than the additional grants given by the government, this means that these schools are still better funded than other schools anyway – so is it really a cut?

More Top Schools Will Receive More Funding Than Cuts

Later that day, the Today newspaper reported that, “The Ministry of Education (MOE) has said that a media report on funding being cut for top independent schools in Singapore is “inaccurate”.” MOE clarified that, “six schools received additional funding while four schools had their funding trimmed following its review of funding for the independent schools.”

Stop here for a minute – let’s look back. So, ST reported that 6 schools will receive funding cuts, but then MOE said that 6 schools instead received additional funding and only 4 schools would have funding “trimmed”.

Specifically, “Three of the schools saw an increase in funding of about 5 per cent this year compared to last year. Another three schools will get between 1 and 3 per cent more while the remaining four schools will see a reduction of no more than 3 per cent in funding.”

Note the phrasing, “no more than 3 per cent in funding” reduction – a very purposeful phrasing – and will this 3% reduction still result in a higher overall funding to the top schools anyway?

An Intended Drama on National Newspapers?

I am not sure why the whole sideshow was played out on national news:

  1. Was it first to give Singaporeans the illusion first on front-page news that the government has decided to be less elitist?
  2. Then when that has gone out, go into another less-read newspaper to pacify the “elites” to say the contrary that actually less schools will have funding cuts, while more schools have additional funding.
  3. From 6 schools which will have cuts to 6 schools which will actually have increases, and only 4 schools with cuts.

Dramatic? I don’t know if this is all accidental.

Now, back to the issue at hand.

Equal Only for Top Schools

Today reported that, “Previously, every independent school was given the same amount of grant per student” and that, “The new funding formula … seeks to provide more equitable funding to the schools.” But what is not said again and as highlighted is that independent schools most likely receive more funding than the other schools anyway – which means that this “equitable funding” makes the top schools more equal ONLY amongst themselves, and not more equal with the other schools.

To put it into perspective, what this means is that the top 18 schools are now made more equal – they are now equally on top, whereas the other 150 schools are not as equal.

But, maybe more statistics will give you a clearer perspective.

The question to ask is – why is the government giving top schools more funding?

It was revealed in 2004 and 2009 that only about half of the students in top schools live in HDB flats. This is in comparison to the 82.4% of Singaporeans who live in HDB flats (Chart 1).


Chart 1: MOE Parliamentary Replies: Proportion of Students Living in HDB Flats

Also, the richest 1% in Singapore actually earn as much as the poorest 40% in Singapore. In fact, the richest 20% earn as much as the poorest 80% in Singapore.

Thus if the large majority of Singaporeans are poorer and our children have to study in the other schools, shouldn’t the other 150 schools receive higher, or at least equal funding with the top schools?

Why do the top schools still receive higher, and additional funding this year, when the high-income earners in Singapore are a lot more well-to-do than most Singaporeans?

And why talk about equitable funding in national newspapers when this equitable funding will only make the top 18 schools more equal to one another, and not for the other 150 schools to be as equal?

The Inequality in Singapore is Doing a Lot of Harm to Our Children

Already, I had written about how the education system in Singapore is unequal and that top schools receive more funding and resources than the other schools, as found by PISA. In fact, The Straits Times had themselves reported that, “The gap between Singapore’s top and neighbourhood schools has over the decades widened partly as a result of factors like bigger and better facilities built with alumni funds.”

The problem with high inequality is many, as has been highlighted by the ‘Readings from a Political Duo-ble’ blog, The Equality Trust had previously reported that because Singapore has the one of the highest income inequalities in the world, and the highest income inequality among the high-income countries, the trust level is also one of the lowest (Chart 2) and we have one of the highest number of prisoners per 100,000 population (Chart 3).

The Equality Trust Income Equality vs Trust

Chart 2: The Equality Trust

The Equality Trust Income Equality vs Prisoners

Chart 3: The Equality Trust

The Equality Trust had also shown that, “the prevalence of mental illness is higher in more unequal rich countries“. Indeed, it was reported by The Independent Singapore that in a, “study of 600 children aged between 6-12 years, “Suicidal behaviour in children and adolescents – prevalence and risk factors””, there was a “rise in number of (mental health disorders in Singaporean children) from 533 in 1980 to 3051 in 2010”. Also, “one in eight children in Singapore have emotional disorders, and one in 20 have behavioural disorders”. On top of that, “22% of those surveyed indicated having harboured suicidal tendencies”.

In fact, things have gotten so bad that, “The numbers of calls to the (IMH’s Reach) hotline reached over 8,000 in 2011 from a modest 306 in its initial year (when it was set up in 2007). Even the number of children referred to Reach by schools rose to 739 from just 14 in the same four years.”

Seen from this perspective, it is really not funny that the inequality in Singapore is so wide, and perpetuated by the government, no less. It is worrying when we have a government which does not recognise the dire effects that inequality can wrought to the people in Singapore (or chooses not to), and if our children are exposed to such inequalities early on in life, what effects does it have to their growth into adulthood? By this government’s very own actions, will it result in a substantial pool among the Singaporean population which are not able to have adequate mental and social well-being and support?

If I were you, I would be very worried to know how this government continues to believe in segregating Singapore into a playground for the rich, while creating a pool of stagnating underclass. It doesn’t bode well for Singapore, and definitely not for the future of Singapore, and our children, and theirs.

So, the Singapore Prime Minister might say that, “every school is a good school“.

Yeah, sure. Every school is equal but some schools are more equal than others.


In the aftermath of the transport fare increase, and in the face of the pending increase of the MediShield premium and Medisave contribution rate, do you have something to say about how the government apportion budget for Singapore?

Do you think the $1,000 wage that the government wants to legislate for cleaners is enough? Do you think more workers should earn a minimum wage and do you think the minimum wage should be higher?

Come join us at the Pre-Budget 2014 Forum, where we would be discussing these issues and sharing with you our recommendations and proposals. This event is jointly supported by MARUAH, Function 8 and Workfair.

You can find out more about the event at the Facebook event page here.

pre budget 2014 conference


  1. Pingback: Equality of Opportunity | Under the starry night sky
  2. Pingback: Budget 2014: Three Things We Missed About The Budget | The Heart Truths

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