Why can rich parents buy their way into private local schools?

The following has been submitted to us by Calvin Cheng, entrepreneur.


“This is an unedited version of a letter to the Straits Times Forum published today.

It is very very important to me and should be to you.

One of the most important things underpinning Singapore society, especially for my generation, is that it doesn’t matter what kind of family you are born into, but with hard work and persistence, you can still achieve.

This is especially so for education – which helps lift poorer kids, equalises society and prevents classes from forming.

I myself grew up in an HDB. I have friends who also grew up in HDB now living in landed property in prime districts because of EDUCATION that was FAIRLY AVAILABLE TO ALL.

This is now being threatened and will harm our society.”


Dear Sir,

I read with concern the report on the three branded international schools – SJI, Hwa Chong and ACS International – expanding to meet the demand of rich Singaporeans.


The education system of Singapore has been erstwhile built on the bedrock of meritocracy: regardless of social background, students would have access to the best schools as long as they meet the grades. More importantly, wealthier students in this system would not be able to pay their way into the best schools, as is the case in many other countries, as our education system is wholly public.

It is very worrying that the top schools in Singapore has now spun off private arms where students who, presumably did not make the grades into the main public campuses, are now able to be admitted as long as they are willing to pay hefty fees. There, these students, because of their privileged backgrounds, are able to enjoy a far richer education, with smaller class sizes and better facilities.

Such a parallel private school system for wealthy Singaporeans runs counter to the fundamental meritocratic principles upon which Singapore was founded. With increasing income inequality, society will become stratified as wealthier parents are able to afford an advantage for their children. Already, the Singapore education system in recent years has been plagued by complaints that expensive tuition has become a necessity; if wealth can buy even a better core education, lower income families will be left further and further behind.

More importantly, such a parallel private system gives lie to the claim that ‘every school is a good school’, when clearly, with money, some schools are better than others.







  1. I dont think it is restrictive to those who work hard under the meritocratic system. These schools are not reducing the number of students that they take in from the regular O-level system. So it does not undermine the meritocratic education system.

    That said, even if the parents pay their way into these schools, doing well is a whole other story for these students.

    Nobody gets a job just because one comes from SJI, Hwa Chong and ACS International. These students, if they want to succeed, will still have to study hard for their O/A-levels and get into local universities. Even if they do get into there private schools, it is no guarantee that they will get into local universities. This is where the ultimate equaliser is at. You can go to any JC or poly, but just because you went to ACSI doesnt mean you will get into NUS.

Share your thoughts!

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.