By Leow Si Wan
SCHOOLS which have come up with novel ways to get their students to be on time have managed to shave tardiness rates by between 20 per cent and 75 per cent.
Instead of punishing latecomers, they reward students who are punctual or, in the case of one school, help them be on time by providing buses to ferry them to school from a pick-up point near the bus interchange.
It is not that latecomers are a major problem at these schools, but the teachers save time when all students are present at the start of classes.
Teachers need not waste time tracking the laggards, nor do they need to call the students' parents or set aside time to meet them to discuss their children's problem. Teachers also need not slow down a lesson, or repeat parts of it, for latecomers.
The time saved could go towards better preparations for lessons, and, hence, more effective lessons.
At Mayflower Secondary School, for instance, classes are recognised for punctuality and other achievements with certificates that can be displayed on classroom doors.
The school also uses technology: A computer is used to log the details of latecomers, and teachers can use this to track their students' comings and goings more effectively.
The school, which used to have 30 to 40 latecomers daily, now has half that number.
Vice-principal Sarawathy Varadaraju said: 'The late-coming situation was not worsening, but of course we wanted the number to be lower, so we introduced a multi-pronged approach. And things have since improved tremendously.'
Some schools have organised daily lucky draws to reward those who show up on time, while others offer incentives such as free meals to the most punctual classes or start their morning assemblies later.
Ping Yi Secondary School in Chai Chee started a shuttle bus service last year to ferry its students to school from a pick-up point near the Bedok bus interchange. A trip costs $30, and about 30 students use the bus service each day.
The service was started when the school realised that its students were jostling with pupils from East Coast Primary School and workers in the nearby factories to get on SBS service 222 - the only one serving the school - at the Bedok Interchange in the mornings.
Principal Shanti Devi said that besides saving teachers time from having to deal with latecomers, improving punctuality also saves parents the hassle of needing to take leave to meet their child's teacher on the matter.
About 40 students used to be late every day. The number has since fallen by 20 per cent.
Ping Yi also holds lucky draws to recognise students who make it on time for the morning assembly. Those whose names are drawn receive vouchers for use at the school's cafe.
Monthly awards are given out for the most punctual classes and classes that improve the most in punctuality.
Teachers also get students to reflect on why they are late, and to commit to arriving on time. Parents are sometimes included in these mini-conferences.
The students now feel more motivated to be on time. Poch Choon Yee, 16, who lives in Pasir Ris, used to be late at least once or twice a month because of the rush for service 222 - despite rising at 4.45am.
She said: 'With the shuttle bus, it is easier. The lucky draw every day also makes coming to school more fun. You never know when you will win.'
Serangoon Secondary School principal Yeo Kuerk Heng sees punctuality as a virtue that needs to be instilled from young, and one that will stand students in good stead when they begin working.
His school hired two teacher aides last year specifically to help form teachers take attendance and follow up on latecomers and absentees. From a dozen latecomers a day, the school now has half that number, and attendance has improved 17per cent.
Principals identified a lack of discipline as being at the root of tardiness.
Said Mayflower Secondary's Madam Sarawathy: 'There are some students who wait for their friends, others who want to skip the first physical education period and those who can't wake up in time. Ultimately, what we want to do through these measures is to instil the right values and attitude in a child.'
Psychiatrist Brian Yeo said such creative measures, instead of punitive ones, were a good move.
He said: 'I don't think it will lead to a sense of entitlement. Rather, it will encourage students to come on time and gradually develop habits of punctuality in them.'