Thursday, March 25, 2010

Can I be no. 555 on your list please?

As I mentioned in my last post, we've been looking at pre-schools for Ryan. Ryan is now 14 months and will be eligible for pre-school when he turns 18 months. Apparently, we're much too late already. People are rushing to place their newborns on waitlists at pre-schools the moment they get the birth certificate. Madness? Well, perhaps not, if the pre-school is truly top-notch.

I keep hearing about these long waitlists at some pre-schools, how they run into the hundreds and how you have to get on the lists three years in advance. Interestingly, there is not a lot of talk about what these pre-schools teach, how the children learn, the environment there, etc. Maybe I'm idealistic but surely you can't select a pre-school solely on the basis of how popular it is? Surely you have to look at the reason for the popularity and see if that reason is relevant to your child? Yes, I know nursery years in Nanyang Kindergarten are taught entirely in Mandarin. Well, that may be the reason for being "waitlisted" as student no. 55 but I'm unconvinced that it can be the reason for being student no. 555.

Let’s not dismiss the powerful herd instinct and the (Singaporean?) love for the queue -  the longer the waitlist, the more attractive it is, no matter what is at the end of the queue.  So what is at the end of the queue? If I have to fight off hundreds of parents so that my son has a place in a pre-school three years from now, then that pre-school better be producing super-humans. I’m talking about talented musician plus multilingual socialite plus Olympic medallist plus nuclear physicist plus charitable humanitarian plus plus plus. What, they’re only 6 years old when they graduate? Well, that’s exactly my point.  If he can spell his name and tie his shoelaces, I'll be jumping for joy already.

To be honest, I was excited when I first heard of these long waitlists. I thought that there were all these pre-schools offering top-quality teaching and learning, how fantastic! These pre-schools were at the top of my list.  Unfortunately, when I inquired further, I realised that their popularity was, more often than not, due to other, more practical, reasons.

The most obvious reason for long waitlists is vintage.  The older the pre-school, the bigger its alumni, which means more sentimental people wanting to send their little ones to the same pre-school that they/their parents/their aunt/their long-lost brother attended. For example, Nanyang Kindergarten was founded in 1934. That’s nearly 80 years worth of students with family members and relatives. Result? The Wait List. Which I hear is running close to 600 names and still going strong.  Ask the school about your chances of actually making it to enrolment day and they'll tell you that, if you're not remotely related to an ex-student, then you should have a back-up plan. In defiance of all things logical, "outsiders" still sign up. I’m not going to ask why Nanyang even keeps a waitlist of that size but I suspect that the $100 that they charge for a spot on the Wait List isn't deterring anyone.

Similarly, places in pre-schools run by churches with large congregations can also be hotly contested, as are places in international schools with large expat communities. Birds of a feather flock together.

Remember that, in pre-school terms, a “big” cohort is still very small in actual terms. St James Church Kindergarten takes in only 70 students at its pre-nursery level (3 years old), which is considered a big cohort.

My point is that, at pre-school level, the difficulty of getting a placement does not necessarily correspond to the pre-school being ‘best of the best’ in terms of quality education. You can’t possibly conclude that the school’s standards are very high or that they let only the brightest children in because we are talking about children who are 18 months old with no previous education transcripts/talent/whatever to compare. Apart from alumni connections, the waitlists are on a first-come-first-served basis, and everyone, from the man on the SBS bus to the CEO in the corner office, are accepted upon payment of the waitlist fee.  Also, note that the pre-schools with long waitlists are not the expensive ones (otherwise the queues will be considerably shorter). So forget the thought that a long waitlist means that your 18-month old child will be hobnobbing with only the rich and famous. It means precisely the opposite. Think Raffles Town Club.

The prize for exclusivity has got to go to schools like British Tanglin Trust School. It is so exclusive that, even if you have both the connections and lots of money, you may not get in. You can speed yourself up the waitlist by buying “Guaranteed Placement Rights” at S$165,000 (plus GST of S$11,550) for 7 years, although your child still has to be “assessed” before they will accept him. The sum is just to secure a spot, by the way. It does not cover school fees or anything else - it’s a contribution to the school to build its new building. After all, the school is a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation and money must come from somewhere. Now that is what I call an expensive school.

My point is that, popularity does not necessarily equate to top-quality. Which makes my task of selecting a pre-school more difficult.  Being "value-driven", I want to ensure that Ryan has access to the best in terms of teaching and learning.  If popularity truly represented top-quality, I could simply place him on one of these long waitlists and rest assured that he will end up in an 'elite' pre-school, the best of the best. Unfortunately for me, that is not the case. So I had to do a lot more research and fact-finding.

So how to decide? The madness continues. Stay tuned.


Kenny Leow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenny Leow said...


talk about pre-school. I think we are all way behind liao. I have customers who had already decided which primary school to enroll and where should their next house be?

Scary right? Like what you said, Alumni is a powerful force. I think if I can't place Matt in some so-called good Primary school (anyway, it will be Belle standard not mine), I will just send him to my ex-Primary School.

Lol... Damn... The madness continues...

Pinkie Pirate said...

Kenny, that is primary school. Very different la. Primary schools all measured by the same criteria - PSLE results. For Primary schools, popularity definitely have some relation to quality. Also, at primary level, it is important to get into a good school, makes a difference.
Pre-schools have no such merit/quality-based criteria. Can't measure which is "the best". Plus I don't think there are significant differences amongst the pre-schools, unlike primary schools.
My point is that the fact that lots of people want to go to a pre-school, doesn't mean it's the best pre-school. That only means it's not a bad pre-school. Alumni sending their children to the same pre-school may not be doing so because the pre-school is "the best", it could simply be because they have fond memories of the place and the place is not bad. So long waitlists shouldn't give people the wrong idea.

Kenny Leow said...

ya, totally agreed with you. Actually my point is, some of my customers have already planned well-ahead in terms of schools. From what pre-schools to what primary schools.

Where should they live so that sending their kids to pre-school won't be a hazzle and yet, it will give them priority to get to a good primary school.

The alumini forces also have a lot of peer pressure among themselves. I'm going back, what about you? In the end, the entire gang is going back. Outsiders where got chance?

Lastly, Singaporean mentality. If got queue, must be good. But they also forget, sometimes got queue because it is cheap, so people doesn't care about the taste and the quality. lol

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

interesting point of view from both of u....

I remb once this gf of mine intro her future hb to us as a ex ACS boy (stayed only 6 yrs type).. which didn't bothered me and trev tat much coz we are the "ermm so?" type of peeps... then it was during one of our conversations tat she mentioned tat if she ever have a boy then " we will go ACS lor" then we finally got it *rolls eyes*

so in singaporeans context, you will be surprised what are their criteria of choosing their sperm!

besides tat, I do feel u must do the SWOT for the preschool... keke.. i did....

*sori i had to delete the other post due to errors*

Kenny Leow said...


do SWOT? Wow lao... I might as well do a thesis on this !!! lol...

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