Special Assistance Plan (SAP), Is It Necessary?

There has been quite a bit of discussion in the social media with regards to the Direct School Admission (DSA) and the Special Assistance Plan (SAP). These two topics are of great interest to me simply because my child is in a SAP primary school and if there be a change in DSA, it might affect him in 2018 when he sits for PSLE.

Let me first touch on SAP. You may like to read what this person wrote in the forum first. The link is here

The SAP (特别辅助计划) was established in 1979 by our government who had the foresight of a strong growing China economy. It foresaw a need for the Chinese in Singapore to be better versed in the Chinese language and its culture to better engage with people in China.

There are only a handful of SAP schools, and as it is intended, only Chinese as mother tongue is offered in these schools. And at primary level, Higher Chinese (HCL) (高级华文) is offered right from the start at Primary 1. The child can, however, opt out of Higher Chinese from Primary 5 onwards (meaning, the child will sit for normal Chinese in Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE)).

There has been talk for SAP to be scrapped, mainly for the fear that the children may not be able to cope with the higher demand in Chinese, and the sensitive interracial issues and ethnic segregation since Singapore is a multi-racial country. While I understand the basis of these concerns, I do not see the scrapping of SAP to be necessary.

First of all, if you think your child is unable to cope with the demands of higher Chinese, you should consider not sending your child to a SAP school in the first place. If, under the primary one enrolment phase, you consider it an advantage to enrol your child to a SAP school, you still have to option to opt your child out of higher Chinese at Primary 5. Thus, this concern should really be a non-concern if you are clear of the options available at the very beginning when you choose a primary school for your child.

Then we have this interracial issue. Some fear that these SAP school students may not be able to integrate well with other races in their working lives. While it may be a concern, it is not a major one in my opinion. These students will eventually be ‘non-SAP’ once they start tertiary education. Besides, children these days are far more well-travelled than us when we were their age (thanks to more affluent parents who bring them round the globe during school holidays). On top of that, we, as parents, should play an active role in helping our children better integrate into our multi-racial society. 

80% of Singaporeans live in public housing. In that kind of community, we have neighbours of different races. As parents, we can seek to integrate better into the community with small initiatives like talking to them whenever we meet them in common corridors, in car-parks, in playgrounds, in supermarkets, etc.. And during festive seasons, we could give each other goodies, invite them to our house, etc. When we do our parts like this, it is not difficult for our children to foster better relationship with other races at all.

My son is in a SAP primary school, and I can confidently say we have made a right choice for him. I love the rich Chinese culture that the SAP schools impart. This kind of cultural immersion, non-SAP schools cannot replicate. In his three over years of schooling, they have learnt Chinese calligraphy (书法), tea art (茶艺), making of mooncake (做月饼), making of lanterns (制作灯笼), learnt about the Rules of Students by Confucius (学弟子规). Though these are in bite sizes, they are enough to motivate the children to want to learn more about Chinese culture. They even have overseas exchange programmes with schools in China or Taiwan for higher Primary. Frankly, if they were not given exposure to these, I doubt we, as parents, have the time to cultivate that area of interest. And possibly, we may meet with another crisis – the crisis of not knowing our roots. As of now, we are speaking less and less of Mandarin at home (it is worse with dialects), I can only imagine the dire state they would be in 20 years' time if we do not put in effort to help preserve the Chinese cultural practices. 
I have also asked some parents in my Facebook group for their views.  Here are what they said:

As long as the children have been guided well, they will live well in a multi-racial, multi-religion society, whether in Singapore or overseas.  I do not foresee our children getting into fights in their National Service days just because one group was from SAP schools and the other was not.   – Sammi, mother to 4, blogs at http://karmeleon.blogspot.com

It depends on what the school will do to help students know about the other cultures but this, mostly through their sharing of the races and cultures before school starts or inviting students from other races to perform on some special occasions or to have 'exchange' events. Such attempts are good but pseudo to me. I recall students laughing at the students of other races when they perform some of their ethnic dances.

But I feel it's up to the family to inculcate the right values in their own children. Many of the children have friends of other races in their neighbourhood and they play together. Those who really feel exclusive are those who have no opportunity to have contact with people of other races. School can only do that small bit. Parents play a greater role.There are teachers of other races in the SAP schools too. So it is still not too bad. It's a deliberate action of MOE. – Mrs Quek, mother to 2, ex-teacher

I was also from a SAP school, albeit, Secondary and I truly enjoyed the Chinese cultural immersion that I was exposed to. I appreciated the environment that I was put in, which has helped me in my life even until today. So, I am for SAP to stay but with a twist.  Currently, students who take HCL at PSLE will have an unfair advantage over those who only take CL. If both parties want to get into a SAP Secondary School, the one who took HCL will get additional points in this manner:

3 points for distinction
2 points for merit
1 point for pass 

These 3, 2, 1 points addition can be significant if a student’s PSLE score is close to the Secondary School of choice’s cut-off-point (COP). With such unfair advantage, it can kick students who only took CL out of the selection criteria. Thus, I do hope that the Ministry of Education (MOE) would seriously look into this, to help the children who take either HCL or CL to have a level play in PSLE scores.

Now, would you like to share with me your view on SAP?

Some relevant readings:
Without bilingual policy, Singapore might be only speaking English today, PM Lee
Limit higher mother tongue to students with real ability  

Due to the length of this post, I will talk about DSA in my next post.


  1. As a parent I did not really consider if it is sap or dsa.it's solely based on my child interest and ability. I think more importantly is the school has a nurturing environment and they are happy in school. ☺

  2. I am working for Ewan and Faye to go into a SAP school with no affiliation at all. I've never thought I'd go beyond any efforts to get them into a good school. In fact, I've never knew the school I wanted them to go to is a SAP school until I read this post and went to google.

    The only reason I chose this particular primary school is because of its rich chinese culture and moral education. Which is, in my opinion, most important in building a strong foundation. So, we bought a place 1km within the school's radius. Alas, I do not know if we have the luck to get in! Crossing our fingers on it.

    Thanks for sharing because I agree that it shouldn't be too much of a concern. If they cannot cope with high chinese after 5 years, we still have the option to opt out. 2018! What a year! The year we register for Primary 1 when AJ sits for his PSLE!

  3. Never went to or considered a SAP school for Lil Pumpkin so thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. I think it's great that they provide such total immersion into the Chinese culture and language, especially if you are Chinese.. something that is indeed hard to find in Singapore especially with globalism and our emphasis on multi-culturalism.

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

  4. I would love for my kids to attend an SAP school, primarily because my husband and I are very westernised and I'd love for them to learn about Chinese culture and language. However, being a PR means we get second dips at local schools, so they'll more than likely end up in an international school instead.

  5. Hi there! My child is still too young for me to have to make any decisions soon. But I am with Phoebe on this. What school I ultimately decide to send my child to depends on his capabilities. Not going to put too much pressure on him as long as he is happy in school. -Priscilla / punggolbabies-

  6. Even though my son is going to a local school but never actually went ahead to know about SAP or DSA. I feel Singapore is a multi-cultural country offering the opportunities for everyone. If your kid is well adjusted let them do best in their own field.

  7. Thank you for sharing.
    Not all my kids took Higher Chinese. Be it HC or SAP, we leave it to them for the final decisions.

    cheers, Andy

  8. I worked as a teacher in the SAP school and after that, I find that I am okay either way... whether my girl goes to one or not. But I think for her own sake, she better attend a non-SAP school. With regards to language, we would like her to learn Chinese but not higher Chinese. Unless of course, she have the calibre for it and wish to learn on her own accord. No pressure from us ;)


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