At last count, in 2012, more than 80 primary schools offered niche programmes in areas such as sports, music, information technology and the arts.
The scheme was started in 2005 to help primary schools diversify and develop distinctive characters - and offer pupils more opportunities to enrich their educational experience.
But a poll of 100 parents by The Straits Times found that only 20 knew about such niche programmes. And of the 20, only 12 said they picked a school based on its niche programme.
The parents were polled on their top three choices of primary schools for their children of kindergarten age.
When asked if they knew what specialised programmes were offered by the schools, none of the parents knew.
One parent, Mrs Shereen Ng, a counsellor, said such schemes should not matter at a young age.
"At six, their niche is making a mess and playing with Lego," said the 38-year-old mother of three.
Another parent, Ms Steph Loo, 33, a teacher, said: "I wouldn't mind picking a school based on its niche programme, assuming I could get in at all in the first place. Getting a spot in a primary school is difficult enough these days, with balloting and everything."
When asked for an update, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said specialised schemes are now provided under the Learning for Life Programmes (LLPs) and Applied Learning Programmes (ALPs) for primary and secondary schools.
These focus more on providing students with more "authentic and varied" learning opportunities rather than achievements, it added. The ALP, for example, which focuses on areas such as creative problem-solving, is aimed at helping students apply their learning in a real-world setting. The LLP is to develop character and values in students. This can be done through sports, music, arts and community service projects.
The ministry said 176 out of 187 primary schools have at least one Learning for Life or Applied Learning programme or a niche programme.
Mrs Jenny Yeo, former principal of South View Primary who is now lead associate in the Partnerships and Engagement Unit at the ministry, said parents should consider the specialised programmes offered by schools and aim for the all-round development of their children.
"If a child has an interest or talent in a particular area and there's a school near the home providing a programme in the area, then why not?" she said.
This article was first published on July 6, 2015.
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