The “Good School” Effect

Singaporean parents are well-known for their singleminded determination to send their children to the best possible school they can – whether it means renting/buying a home within 1 kilometre of the preferred school, joining a clan or church, or performing random menial tasks like directing traffic, washing fish tanks or juggling chainsaws blindfolded.

Any local mother past her first trimester is likely to be able to tell you what the various Phases of the Primary One Registration Criteria involve, and that for schools with oversubscriptions at any particular Phase, priority is determined by the proximity of the child’s home to the school.

For popular schools like Nanyang Primary School and Raffles Girls Primary School, the available slots are usually fully taken up by Phase 2A. And yet even so, I still encounter many a parent looking to buy property “near SCGS/Nanyang/MGS/RGPS/etc” in the hopes that it might enhance their chances of scoring a spot for their child.

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There has long been grumbling over the pressure to do “volunteer” service, and the unfair advantage that alumni parents have, with many calling for priority to be given to children living closest to the school.

On 23 February 2012, The Straits Times reported that the Ministry of Education was relooking the Primary One Registration Criteria, in particular to address the issue of children being unable to enroll in schools they lived in close proximity to.

If demand for properties near good schools is already strong under the existing regime, there is little doubt that prices and rentals in these areas will skyrocket if the government were to make proximity play a greater deciding role in the Primary One selection process. This would automatically cut off parents of limited means (though some argue that if these schools are really that good, the alumni-parent should be doing well enough to buy prime real estate, thus no difference whether Phase 2A is abolished in favour of zoning!)

I believe the proximity-to-good-schools is not just limited to primary schools, but secondary schools too. Asian parents will always place their children’s education as a main priority. My own parents shifted our family home from the East Coast to Bukit Timah when I attended RGS ( I think in part because on the first day at my new school, I took over 2 hours to get home after boarding the bus in the wrong direction and ending up somewhere around Choa Chu Kang! We subsequently moved within 10-15 minutes walk to my school!)

I also reckon that with the highest concentration of good schools in the neighbourhood, Bukit Timah will always be a desirable address despite the lack lustre performance of this area in recent times. The question is whether to buy now, when the traffic situation is still messy due to the Downtown/Circle line rail works, or wait till things clear up and the outlook is more certain.

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