SINGAPORE - You could call Cho Sin Yee a star pupil. The bubbly 10-year-old had always done well at school. Last year, she scored 94 per cent for English, 96 for science and 93 for Chinese in her Primary 4 year-end exam.
Hayley Sim, also 10, improved tremendously in English and science while maintaining steady grades for other subjects. She was also among the top 21 per cent of P4 participants in the UNSW Global 2013 International Competitions and Assessment for Schools (ICAS) English. This annual, independent skills-based assessment is taken by pupils from over 20 countries.
Typical successes from motivated pupils at an "elite" school? No, Sin Yee and Hayley are two happy girls thriving in the positive environments closest to their homes - Lakeside Primary and Horizon Primary, respectively.
Hayley's mother, Agnes Tay, a marcoms and merchandising director, 42, shares: "I never thought of sending Hayley to an elite school as we wanted her to be in a 'real' environment, so as to be more adaptable in society. We were happy to have a primary school within three minutes walking distance from our flat in Punggol, so naturally Horizon was our first choice."
On the other hand, Sin Yee's parents had other plans for their daughter at first. Wilson Cho, 43, the director of an asset management services company, admits that his wife was disappointed that Sin Yee did not get into a more well-known school: "She believed our daughter would have benefited more under the more established system of an elite school. We felt that at a neighbourhood school, Sin Yee might not have been able to develop her fullest potential under a less competitive system."
However, the couple had no regrets when they saw that their daughter was happy and doing well at Lakeside.
SOMETHING FOR ALL
What is it about neighbourhood schools that has these parents buzzing? Young Parents distils the pull factors:
Everyone's different... yet on par. "There's a good social mix of children from social backgrounds, and the learning environments represent the real world," says Agnes.
According to my daughter, it's quite competitive but not stressful at Horizon, and she'll always push herself to do better than in her previous grade. Most of the kids set their own goals and strive to achieve them."
In comparison, elite schools tend to have children of similar status and traits, explains Agnes, who had enrolled her eldest daughter, now 16 years, at a "branded" school.
After the girl suffered a "bad" experience, Agnes transferred her to a heartland school. She declines to elaborate but says: "The culture, environment, socialisation and learning journey (at the first school) was somehow different. I always felt that all primary schools should be the same."