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Monday December 2nd 2019

Appeal for education minister to waive off unpaid school fees and return result slip to students

(sent via email)

Dear Mr Ong Ye Kung
Minister for education

28 Nov 2019

Re: Withholding of examination result slip due to unpaid school fees

Thanks for your efforts in ensuring that all Singaporeans have a solid basic education free of the burden of having to pay school fees even though they are many who are trying to cope with the high cost of living here.

We also applaud the ministry for putting in place the laudable financial assistance scheme (FAS) which benefitted thousands of needy students each year complete with free uniform, meal coupon, free textbooks and free school fees. I am sure many students from adverse financial situation have benefitted from the welfare scheme.

However, it came to our attention that some students may fall through the crack when it comes to the application of FAS due to various unique reasons – incomplete filling of forms due to a missing family member, sudden loss of a breadwinner through retrenchment or just missing out on the FAS criteria mark of $2750 gross income per household or $690 per capita income.

Many also feel embarrassed to apply for financial assistance due to their ego and prefer to tough it out often worsening the problem for the innocent child.

We hope that the schools can be proactive on their part also to identify vulnerable students who have a prolonged accumulation of school fees for more than six months – its a sure sign of some trouble at the home front and perhaps the school counsellor can attend to such cases to nip it in the bud before the situation deteriorates further.

To simply expect the families to come forward and apply for financial assistance on their own accord may be beyond some families who are either lowly-educated or swamped with their own personal issues.

They need a gentle nudge, a loving compassionate touch to show that the school is also caring and reaching out than the current iinstitutional trend of coldness and aloofness when it comes to handling families living in poverty.

I also remembered how a school teacher came to my home to speak with my family as I was missing out on school alot. Her visit not only provided me the assurance that the school is a loving place but that humanity is also very much alive.

Mr Ong, I hope that you will agree with me that we need to change our approach in handling those who could not pay up their school fees as simply denying their original examination certificate is not the right solution to solve a longstanding problem.

Let us not tie the two issues together as it sends forth a mixed signal to the young child who feels that he is being marginalised and punished for his parent’s fault when he is being denied of the original result slip. It will also stir up anger and shame within the child who is still too young to comprehend the whole matter properly. Often, the child may feel that he is at fault lapsing into adverse emotional backlash or he may lay the blame squarely on his family which is also unhealthy.

Thus, we urge the ministry to consider waiving off these unpaid fees in a special compassionate goodwill gesture so that our needy children could finally receive their educational certificates.

If the ministry could not undertake this special waiver, we are willing to try our best through crowdfunding measure to pay for all the backlogged school fees over the years or even decades so that the original certificate can be returned to the rightful owner.

We want to work hand in hand with the ministry to resolve a complicated long-standing matter and hopefully we can groom children to be responsible and compassionate despite their family situation.

The reason why I am so passionate about this matter Mr Ong is because I too grew up in a very poor family environment and could not attend kindargarten sessions as we couldn’t pay the school fees then. Every morning, I would run to the school and peep in from outside the gate entrance gawking in envy at those who could attend the sessions.

From a very young age, I was also fostered out for a long ten years due to the fact that my parents have to work very long hours to make ends meet. I felt abandoned and could never understand why we have to leave our parents and stay with strangers.

My childhood experience has scarred me for life but it has also toughened me up alot as I always feel much for the underdogs and try to speak up for them whenever possible.

I am writing this with tears streaming down my cheeks as it is never easy to come to terms with any childhood scars often embedded deep within our memory and any healing is a life-long struggle.

So I plead with you again Mr Ong to reconsider the ministry’s decision to tie the withholding of a result certificate to unpaid school fees – it is not only cruel but psychologically damaging to any young child’s esteem.

I am also open to a face-to-face meeting with you so that we can discuss this matter openly and cordially.

Thank you so much for your hard work in the ministry. I wish you the very best ahead.

Yours sincerely,
Gilbert Goh

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