Sunday, January 1, 2012

Parent volunteers work 40 hours for nothing

THE rain poured, and for the parents of 30 children who left Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School empty-handed yesterday, it couldn't have summed up their feelings better.

The results of Phase 2B of this year's Primary 1 registration exercise had just been announced, and their children did not get a place in the school in Bukit Timah.

A total of 44 people were balloting for 14 places.

One parent volunteer was trying her best to put on a brave front as she got into her car.

The 35-year-old mother, who asked not to be named, said she had spent over 40 hours volunteering at the school so as to register her child under Phase 2B.

Under the Ministry of Education's (MOE) scheme, parents can raise their child's chances of getting into the primary school of their choice if they join the school as a parent volunteer at least a year before their child's registration.

They must also devote a minimum of 40 hours volunteering at the school.

They will then be able to register under Phase 2B, which is also for children whose parent is a grassroots leader or is endorsed by an affiliated church or clan.

"We did all these school events," she recalled sadly. "We helped out at Sports Day. We helped out at NAPFA (the physical fitness test).

"I even took leave so I could attend those events held on weekdays."

She is now on the school's waiting list. In the meantime, she is considering neighbourhood schools.

Despite her disappointment, she accepted that the process was "fair and square".

"I guess we've been mentally prepared from the start that this might happen," she said.

A spokesman for Pei Hwa said that there were a total of 70 children vying for 44 spots at Phase 2B, including those living within 2km of the school, who did not need to ballot.

This is the part of registration that takes place following Phase 1 (for children with siblings studying in the school), Phase 2A1 (for children of members of the school alumni association or the school advisory or management committee) and Phase 2A2 (for children whose sibling or parent had studied in the school or whose parent is a staff member).

It is followed by Phase 2C. This is for children who were ineligible for, or were unsuccessful in, previous phases.

When Phase 2B registration closed on Tuesday, the MOE website said that the number of children registering exceeded the number of vacancies at 29 primary schools.

The highest difference was at Ai Tong Primary, which saw 61 applicants vying for 20 places.

Mrs Saraswathy, 35, was another unlucky parent.

The housewife had spent over 40 hours helping the Tamil department at Rulang Primary School to type out documents for higher mother tongue classes - to no avail.

Her son was one of the six youngsters who walked away forlorn after the school held its Phase 2B balloting yesterday, with 25 applicants going for 19 spots.

"We were quite hopeful," said Mrs Saraswathy, who lives within 1km of Rulang. "We thought we had a good chance."

Fellow volunteer Erick Tan, 35, who works in corporate real estate, told The New Paper that of Rulang's 51 parent volunteers, those who live outside the 2km radius of the school did not even get a shot at the ballot.

Had the Tans not decided to move to within 1km of the school before registration, they would have been among those unlucky parents.

Instead, the move - plus the 40 hours or so Mr Tan put in for services such as fire audits - helped clinch their son a spot in Rulang.

His wife, Jean, 34, bank officer, was all smiles.

"All the stress has been worthwhile," she said.

The move-and-volunteer tactic also paid off for another couple, even though it cost them over 80 hours of their time.The couple, who are in their late 30s and wanted to be known as Mr and Mrs Tan, were gunning for Pei Hwa.

When their application received no response, they started volunteering at Bukit Panjang Primary School (BPPS) instead.

They had clocked the necessary 40 hours at BPPS by last December, when their acceptance to volunteer at Pei Hwa came through.


Because of the high number of volunteers at BPPS, they decided their odds would be better at the other school.

So they moved to within 1km of Pei Hwa for another 40 hours of putting make-up on cheerleaders and ferrying kids to and from co-curricular activities (CCA).

"I'm quite relieved we switched to Pei Hwa," said Mrs Tan, who escaped the ballot.

"At BPPS, I would definitely have had to ballot."

A total of 51 children were registered for the 41 places BPPS had in Phase 2B. This is the first time the school has had to hold balloting in this phase due to the higher take-up of places at earlier phases.

'Be prepared with Plan B'

NOT all parents who offer to volunteer are accepted. For instance, at Nanyang Primary School (NYPS), more than 300applicants apply each year, of which only 50 are shortlisted for interview.

"We try to cap the number of parent volunteers at 30 each year," said NYPS principal Mrs Lee Hui Feng.

"But we do take in a few more if the areas of service offered by parents meet the urgent needs of the school.

"For example, we may take in an additional parent who is able to offer his service as an interior designer for a building project, or a translator when the school is publishing a history book." Besides capping intake, schools must ensure parents know their child's place is not assured before they volunteer.

"It is the school's practice to conduct a briefing for parent remind (them) that...balloting will be conducted where demand exceeds supply in that phase," said Mr Ng Buck Chwee, vice-principal of Bukit Panjang Primary School (BPPS).

MOE's website stated that 51 children were registered for the 41 places BPPS had to offer in Phase 2B. Responding to allegations from an unnamed parent volunteer published in Lianhe Zaobao on Wednesday that the school kept mum about exactly how many parents were volunteering for the school, Mr Ng said: "The number of parent volunteers who have registered with the school is also shared during the briefing."

A spokesman for Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary said that the school tries to disappoint as few parent volunteers as possible.

"It's an emotional thing," said the spokesperson. "They become quite immersed in the school, they know the school better, they know the staff."

Mrs Lee agreed.

"We always advise the parents to be prepared with plan B, even before they commence their volunteer work," she said.

This article was first published in The New Paper.
Olivia Ho | The New Paper | Sat Jul 23 2011

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