Wed, May 27, 2009
The Straits Times
More funds for autonomous schools

By Liaw Wy-Cin

FOR students at Xinmin Secondary, the school's plans to expand its enrichment programmes will not see parents digging deeper into their pockets.

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The autonomous school in Hougang is one of a group of schools which will be given extra money from the Education Ministry (MOE) to continue running high quality programmes to broaden their students' skills and experiences.

This is good news for the school's principal, Madam Liew Wei Li.

She said: 'The extra money means we can continue to expand our programmes and minimise having students pay out of their pockets or Edusave (an education fund).'

From next month, Singapore's 27 autonomous schools, will receive a funding boost, doubling the money per student per year that the schools are currently getting.

The $300 per student will be on top of a school's annual operating budget given by the ministry.

Announcing this at a community dialogue yesterday at Nanyang Community Centre in Jurong West, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said the revision was part of the Government's commitment to spending more on education as the best investment for the future, especially during the current recession.

'We will increase our spending for autonomous schools...so that they can step up their enrichment programmes,' said Dr Ng.

The money, which is directly given to the school, can be used to pay for services and programmes such as camps and different co-curricular activity (CCA) electives.

Based on student population figures on the ministry's website, this latest funding move is estimated to cost the MOE about $6 million more a year.

Introduced in 1994, autonomous schools are one of four types of public secondary schools in Singapore, which include government, government-aided and independent institutions.

Government schools typically get upgraded to autonomous status when they have demonstrated a sustained ability to add value to their students' all-round education.

But this upgrade means that schools have to provide a wider range of activities to further enhance learning, meaning increased costs to students. This can range from $3 to $18 on top of schools' monthly general fees capped at $21.

Madam Liew is hoping to use the extra funds to engage approved external parties to conduct some of the school's enrichment programmes, such as leadership camps.

'So far, most of our programmes are done in-house to save money, but this taxes our teachers a lot more,' she said.

The principal of Ngee Ann Secondary in Tampines, Mr Adrian Lim, wants to use the money to develop new teaching and learning methods employing the use of IT, as the school is a Centre of Excellence for information and communication technologies.

Such programmes at autonomous schools are likely to narrow the gap between what is offered at government schools and at the more elite independent schools.

Said Madam Liew: 'I often joke with my teachers that we can provide independent school programmes at government prices.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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Studying hard pays off for Nur Saleha's family
More funds for autonomous schools