Hard to detect if false information given

For Primary 1 registration, schools conduct a ballot when the number of applicants exceeds available places. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

For Primary 1 registration, schools conduct a ballot when the number of applicants exceeds available places. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Some parents are prepared to risk a hefty fine or even a jail sentence to get their children into brand-name schools by faking their address.

TO get her older daughter into a brand-name primary school, a mother of two girls rented an apartment across the road.

The woman, who wants to be known only as Teo, moved into the apartment when her daughter was four, two years before Primary One registration 10 years ago. Her daughter got into the school in Bukit Timah, as did her other daughter later, who is two years younger.

“I was not the only one doing it. Which parent would not do that to secure their children’s future,” said Teo, 49. The girls went on to the affiliated secondary school.

Under a new rule introduced in 2015, children who gain priority admission to schools based on distance have to live at the address for at least 2½ years from the start of the registration exercise. Previously, no time period was set.

To some, Teo had gamed the system, even though she did not break the law. But others are prepared to risk a fine and a jail term by faking an address just to get their children into the school of their choice, property agents said.

One agent, who did not want to be named, said he has had calls from at least six parents over the past three years, asking if property owners in certain estates could let them use the addresses, without their having to move there. Others said they have declined offers of between S$1,000 (RM2,990) and $$2,000 (RM5,980) by such desperate parents.

For Primary 1 registration, schools conduct a ballot when the number of applicants exceeds available places. Those who live nearer the school - usually within 1km - get priority in the ballot.

Last Monday, a 36-year-old mother was fined S$5,000 (RM14,950) for giving false information to a public servant to get her child into a popular school during Phase 2C of the 2015 Primary 1 registration exercise. Phase 2C is for those with no links to the school.

Her 39-year-old husband was fined S$4,000 (RM11,960) for giving a false contact address to a registration officer at the Serangoon Gardens Neighbourhood Police Post in 2014. The couple had claimed their residential address was in Bishan, when they were still living in Serangoon Gardens. They secured their child a spot in the school in 2015, using a copy of their identity cards with the false contact address, which was within 1km of the school. The Education Ministry (MOE) had earlier reportedly said that action involving the child will be decided at a later stage.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education’s academic division, said some parents still define a “good school” based on its academic performance and its reputation. Prof S Gopinathan, academic adviser at The Head Foundation, said: “Ours is a competitive education system.”

“No one should break any laws, but high anxiety levels make people do foolish things.”

National Institute of Education Assoc Prof Jason Tan said MOE cannot stop such fraudulent behaviour from parents but can only trust them to be honest.

And when they cheat and lie, parents may not just be fined. In 2007, a lawyer was given 11 months in jail for forging and lying about his residential address in order to get his daughter into a reputable school in Bukit Timah.

Such cases are hard to detect, experts said. MOE said a case would be referred to the police when “there is reason to believe that a false address may have been used”.

Pupils whose parents are found to have falsified their addresses to gain priority admission “would be transferred to another school with available vacancies”, it cautioned.

But this forced transfer could cause the child to develop emotional problems, said Dr Jessie Chua, senior clinical psychologist at The Resilienz Clinic.

And psychiatrist Lim Boon Leng said that even if the child remained in the school, he “may live with a sense of guilt”.

While some parents interviewed believe it is unfair to penalise the child, assistant sales manager Anthony Chua, 34, said a fine is merely a slap on the wrist for such parents.

“Their selfish actions might deprive other kids who genuinely live close to the school.” — The Straits Times/Asia News Network