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Socio-political activist Gilbert Goh has revealed that kindhearted donors have paid off the fee arrears of about 15 needy students, whose original exam results slips had been withheld over unpaid school fees due to a Ministry of Education (MOE) policy.

The MOE policy came to light on 25 Nov when a Facebook post Mr Goh published, describing the plight of a needy student who was not able to collect her PSLE result slip due to unpaid school fees amounting to S$156, went viral. Responding to the post on 26 Nov, MOE defended the practice of withholding original results slips due to fee arrears as one that is “longstanding”.

Asserting that the issue was “not about recovering the money,” MOE claimed that the policy symbolises the principle that Singaporeans must not ignore their duty to pay a small fee since the cost of education is almost entirely publicly funded. Pointing out that it would be easier to reduce subsidies and financial assistance if the issue was about money, MOE said:

“MOE’s consideration stems from the underlying principle that notwithstanding the fact that the cost of education is almost entirely publicly funded, we should still play our part in paying a small fee, and it is not right to ignore that obligation, however small it is. We hope parents support us in reinforcing this message.”

Claiming that “the authors of the viral posts are trying to call into question the intention and values of MOE,” the ministry concluded: “Our educators, parents and members of (the) public will have to decide whether MOE’s action is fair and educationally sound, and what the lesson of this teachable moment for our children is.”

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Although MOE seemed to suggest that Mr Goh may not have honorable intentions in exposing this issue on social media, the activist has actually been raising money to help needy students pay off their fee arrears and get their exam results slips. Mr Goh has also helped many needy families share their own experiences with MOE’s policy.

This week, Mr Goh revealed on social media that good Samaritans have come forward to pay off the fee arrears of about 15 needy pupils.

Sharing that donations amounting to about S$3,000 has been paid to MOE to settle the unpaid fees, Mr Goh said: “The highest sum of school fee paid so far is $479 for a secondary school-going student and the lowest amount paid is $30 for a PSLE student whose certificate is being withheld.”

Thanking the donors who came forward to support the needy students, Mr Goh also thanked MOE for “providing financial assistance to the many thousands of kids through FAS without which education will be a difficult phase” and thanked the many teachers “who have tried to reach out to those vulnerable kids.”

Read the stories of some of the students whose fee arrears were paid off by kindhearted donors here:

(1) The first student Mr Goh had highlighted on social media was able to get her PSLE certificate after a kind donor paid off her S$156 unpaid school fees.

(2) Another kind donor came forward to pay about S$76 to settle another needy student’s fee arrears. This student – who earned a PSLE score of 207 and is set to enter the express stream in secondary school – is from a family who is on state welfare.

The student’s mother gave birth to another child just two days before the release of PSLE results and the student’s father has been in the hospital for the past few months due to an illness.

The distressed mother managed to get her daughter’s results after paying a deposit of S$50 and signing a guarantee that she will pay the rest soon and a donor came forward to pay the balance “so she has the dignity of obtaining the original certificate without the fee debt hanging over her head.” The student thanked the donor with drawings:

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(3) A pair of twins (left) were told that their GCE N level results will be withheld if they are unable to pay their backlogged school fees of S$310 each. Two donors chipped in and paid off the twins’ outstanding school fees.

The boys wrote a heartwarming thank you letter to Mr Goh and the donors and said: “You truly make the difference for us and we are extremely grateful!”

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(4) Another kindhearted donor came forward to pay another student’s fee arrears of about S$38. The student’s mother – a single parent with six children who are all schooling – had recounted that her daughter ran from her classroom crying after her teacher told her that she would not receive her original results slip due to unpaid fees in front of all her classmates.

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(5) A donor paid of a needy student’s outstanding fees of S$175.

The pupil (left), who is set to enter Primary 4 next year, is cared for by a struggling single father who earns S$1,800 before CPF deduction and is trying to make ends meet by doing odd jobs.

Mr Goh has advised the struggling parent to apply for financial assistance and indicated that the father was unsure whether he would qualify.

The student shared a drawing expressing her thanks to the donor and Mr Goh with a wide smile:

(6) Another mother told Mr Goh that her primary school-going boys were in a similar situation but the school did not impose the practice of withholding the results slip after son’s PSLE even though she was not able to pay the school fees.

The mother said that her family does not qualify for financial assistance since their salary before CPF deduction is above the cap of S$2,750 even though their salary after CPF deduction is less than the cap. Although her son received his exam results slip, kind donors who saw Mr Goh’s post on the family’s plight paid off both sons’ unpaid school fees.

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(7) A kindhearted individual paid off another student’s fee arrears of S$174.

This student’s single mother was worried that her daughter may not receive her PSLE results slip when she completes Primary 6 due to the outstanding school fees that was accumulated when her daughter was in Primary 1 and 2, before they were granted FAS.

The student (right) shared her thanks to the donors and Mr Goh with a smile.

(8) Donors also paid off a student’s outstanding secondary school fees of S$330. The boy’s school told his father that he needed to settle fee arrears before his son’s ‘N’ Level result can be released.

The father, however, was unable to as he is unable to land a job since he is wheelchair bound and lost his right eye recently due to diabetes and depends on his wife to be the sole breadwinner for their family of four sons.

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(9) Another young beneficiary (left) drew a pretty thank-you note for donors who paid S$73 for her backlogged school fees.

The student will be starting Primary 4 next year and owed outstanding fees that accumulated before financial assistance kicked in.

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(10) A 9-year-old child (right) in a similar situation also thanked donors for paying off her backlogged primary school fees.

This student had accumulated outstanding fees before financial assistance kicked in and donors contributed S$130 to settle her fee arrears.

Thanking donors for helping her, the student wrote: “Thank you for your kindness. I appreciate it so much. May allah bless u.”

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(11) Donors also paid off the outstanding school fees of S$494 for a primary school-going child (left) who is going for her PSLE next year. The school fees were accumulated before she received financial assistance.

The student is cared for by someone who is not her parent and she has apparently not seen her parents since the age of two. She wrote to donors: “Thank you..may god bless the donors and sponsors with health and wealth.”

Mr Goh said that his team “will be following up with a home visit soon to check how we can better assist the family.”

(12) Donors also paid off the outstanding fees of two siblings who accumulated fee arrears before financial assistance kicked in. When Mr Goh’s team visited the students’ home, they found that the children’s mother was severely suicidal and promptly offered counselling.

According to Mr Goh, the mother would often sit on the edge of her house’s window and thoughts of killing herself constantly cross her mind. A photo Mr Goh shared (below) suggested that the mother found relief through the counselling. Mr Goh’s team of volunteers also gave the family S$100 worth of NTUC vouchers.

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Mr Goh is organising a forum that he hopes will spur MOE to delink unpaid school fees from the release of exam results slips. While the event is free to attend, seating is limited.

The activist said that the forum will discuss the reasons why families could not pay the school fees despite the availability of financial welfare schemes and how such vulnerable families together can be assisted. Parents who have first-hand experience with the MOE policy and other community leaders are expected to speak at the forum. -/TISG

Activist organises forum to discuss MOE’s policy of withholding exam results slips over unpaid school fees

Kind donors help needy students receive exam result slips despite MOE’s defense of withholding certs over unpaid school fees

Exam results slip allegedly withheld from pupil with cancer-stricken mother and retrenched father due to fee arrears

Underprivileged diploma student’s results withheld pending payment of fees

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