Some parents jump through hoops to provide space for their child in elementary school. Writer and mother of two Evelyn Hahn had priority among graduates, as the old girl of the school her mother attended. She shares why she decided to give up the privilege for the sake of convenience when choosing an elementary school for her daughters.
With about 180 primary schools in Singapore to choose from, there is no shortage of choices for children starting formal education.
However, with the choice come decisions, so, depending on the expectations and preferences of parents, the exercise “Basic Registration” can be both nail biting, and just another ordinary day.
I would have known by going through this rite to the parents of two girls aged 15 and nine.
When my firstborn went to elementary school, I was new to the exercise of registering in elementary school. I remember feeling shaky emotions of nervousness (“God, what forms do I fill out? What will happen if I missed registration?”) And relative calm (“oh, what will happen”).
There was also self-doubt (“What if we made a mistake in choosing a school?”). This happened because my husband and I decided not to send my daughter to my alma mater, a girls’ high school. This came as a surprise to some of the people around us, as entering the alma mater puts them in Phase 2A – the second earliest stage of the registration exercise – which would give us a clear advantage in securing a place in the school of our choice.
As all the girls in the family, including the grandmother, attended girls’ schools, there was also pressure to continue the family tradition. But I had other opinions in mind.
Familiarity with the stages of registration P1
For the uninitiated, there are several ways to enroll in a parenting school if your child does not meet the requirements of Phase 1 registration. The first stage is open to children with siblings who are already in school.
Phase 2A is open to several groups, including those whose parents are members of the Alumni Association or the School Advisory or Steering Committee, in accordance with Phase 2A (1).
At the time, my daughter was placed in Phase 2A (2), which is available for children whose parents attended school or had another child who previously attended there.
From this year (2022) 2A (1) and 2A (2) are rolled into one phase 2A.
This is followed by phase 2B. It is open to children whose parents have joined the school as a parent volunteer or are a member of a church or clan directly related to the primary school. A child whose father is recognized as an active community leader may also register at this stage.
Phase 2C serves all other children who are not yet enrolled in school. If the preferred primary school has more registered than vacancies, priority is given depending on the child’s nationality and distance from home to school. (More information can be found at Ministry of Education website on the P1 registration exercise and phases.)
Why convenience is important
There are countless jokes when parents go to great lengths and jump through hoops to make sure they can register their child in the early stages of registration.
Some offer time to become volunteer parents, others are reportedly moving through the city to live closer to their chosen school because of the narrower house-school distance can be an advantage if there are more applicants than vacancies.
Although my husband and I can disagree on many things during our marriage, the decision to try our luck with an elementary school closest to our home as part of Phase 2C was unanimous.
It only takes five minutes to walk there from our HDB apartment, which is good for parents who work from home like me.
For comparison, the elementary school I used to go to is a 30-minute drive away. By public bus the road would take more than an hour, not counting the waiting time.
Another factor was that my second child had just been born at a time that further heightened the need for comfort.
We do not drive. So imagine that you have to carry a baby, spending more than two hours every day, transporting your younger student to school and back by bus. Or the need to call a taxi to bring a sick child home on a school day – something every parent of a young child probably feels at some point.
Although there is another more famous school located within walking distance of our apartment, a quick check with some neighbors who live nearby revealed that at the time of registration there were probably a large number of subscribers.
If the vote had not been in her favor, my daughter would have been sent to a school farther from home. So we avoided enrolling in this school to avoid unnecessary stress for ourselves.
After all, we were thrilled when our firstborn was placed in our favorite nearby elementary school in Stage 2C.
When we got the good news, the only thing that came to my mind was, “Hurray, we can still get to school on time, even if we wake up at 7 am.”
Meanwhile, my daughter did not care whether she secured a place in school A, B or C. At this young age, her main concern was whether to serve delicious food in the school cafeteria during breaks, in particular, her favorite spaghetti bolognese.
The primary school experience was just as rewarding
As a father, I learned that the first school years are a matter for the whole family. This includes navigating the logistics of transporting young children to and from school, working with teachers to eliminate any undesirable behaviors, and promoting a healthy attitude towards learning and peer communication.
Some people say that not enrolling my child in my more familiar alma mater is a “waste.” It also means that we lose the benefits that affiliation gives, which usually leads to lower scores when entering high school. But I don’t think it was a waste. I was glad that we chose what was and remains for our children and family.
Many times, when my daughter was sick and had to return home early or forgot a bottle of water or a pencil case on the way to school, so we had to go back for a subject, I was glad that school was just minutes away from home.
While teaching my eldest daughter in elementary school, the warmth, support, and dedication she received from her teachers was no different than what I received from the teachers who taught me before.
This has further strengthened my belief that when it comes to education, teachers in the field, rather than the name of the school, play an important role in making every child’s school meaningful.
Naturally, we all, as parents, want our children to have a good start in life and go well. But even when we help them unleash their potential, I think it’s important to remember that young people are following the example of adults around them.
What message do we convey to our children when, for example, we express frustration or anger when they do not find a place in a popular school? Or when we say things like “Oh, I hope you know how lucky you are because Mom and Dad moved home so you could go to this or that elementary school”?
Ultimately, every young child needs one main thing to develop and adapt well in elementary school: adults who love, support at home and at school. Everything else, in my opinion, is just fine, but not necessary.
By the time my youngest daughter’s primary registration took place, I no longer had any doubts about myself.
We enrolled her in Stage 1, the same school her older sister attended, knowing that she would also get access to similarly interesting experiences in elementary school and excellent teachers – just a five minute drive from home.