Poll: Should parent volunteering be abolished?
In a race to secure coveted spots in popular primary schools, parents have opted to volunteer to increase their children’s chances of entry. However, with schools now massively raising volunteer hours, parents have voiced disapproval. Should volunteering be abolished completely?
The advantage of volunteering
For parents looking for advantages to push their children further up in the line at the Primary 1 registration exercise, volunteering presents a strong opportunity. Parents without any other specific advantages resort to the much-coveted Phase 2B of the exercise. In this case, volunteering a stipulated amount of hours allows these parents to register their children earlier and thus stand a higher chance of placing them in a desired school.
The number of parents willing to volunteer their hours to schools have jumped significantly. Popular schools can received up to 200 volunteer applications but will only accept about 30.
Meanwhile a disturbing trend shows schools in high demand raising their volunteering hours significantly. Schools like Raffles’ Girls Primary, St. Hilda’s and Poi Ching School have reportedly increased their requirements to 60 hours, while Nanyang Primary pushed the contribution hours to 80, double that of the MOE guideline.
The trend also shows these schools increasingly looking for more value-added services. For instance, Nayang Primary is looking for help in IT and robotics, Catholic High looks for long term projects, while South View looks for help in creating digital learning tools.
Ms Ng, a primary school teacher, believes that the increased hours would not deter determined parents. She said that parents “even sell their homes and move closer to the schools” in a bid to raise their chances at registration. She stated that 30 more hours of volunteering is not that big a setback.
Meanwhile, Singaporean parent Jeffrey Nanthakumar voiced his unhappiness saying, “What next? Volunteer to teach remedial classes and coach the soccer team? Parents should have the option of not wanting their kids to participate in this madness.”
Is it unfair?
What has become of the spirit of volunteering? Are parents merely trying to force their way into a loophole of sorts just to get their children into a desired school? The real aim of parental volunteering was definitely not to give parents a leg-up in Primary 1 registration.
It appears that the debate goes even deeper.
In 2009, a US investment billionaire Jim Rogers, who took up a Singapore citizenship, and his wife undertook more than 40 hours of volunteer work at Nanyang Primary School. Local celebrity Zoe Tay has also followed suit, volunteering at Nanyang to improve her son’s chances.
There have been accusations that the volunteering system promotes elitism and works to widen the already significant income gap between the rich and the poor. The complaints argue that it puts ‘elite’ primary schools further out of the reach of poorer families, during the registration phase. The system seems to work in favour parents who have the time and qualifications to volunteer at the schools.
Poorer, less-skilled parents have neither the time to volunteer nor do they have the relevant skills needed by schools embarking on value-added projects. These parents are at a big disadvantage when it comes to phase 2B.
For a country that claims to be meritocratic, the exploitation of phase 2B, whether by parents or schools, is by all means unmeritocratic. Perhaps the answer lies not in abolishing parent volunteering, but by canceling out the additional advantage it buys. What do our readers think, should parent volunteering be abolished or should the whole phase 2B be cancelled?