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New rules may see fewer parents doing grassroots work

The Straits Times | Pearl Lee | Monday, Jun 16, 2014

SINGAPORE - It may mean fewer people stepping forward to help in their activities, but veteran grassroots leaders here are glad that new rules will make it tougher for volunteers to get priority Primary 1 registration.

In the long run, the people they actually get will be those who join for the right reasons, rather than opportunists looking to capitalise on perks that come with the position, they say.

In the new scheme, parents will have to be grassroots leaders for at least two years to get the benefit, double the time now. They will also get priority only in schools in the constituencies where they live, rather than in two areas now - where they live, and where they choose to serve.

The People's Association, which has about 1,800 grassroots organisations under it, made the changes in April. They apply to children who will register for Primary 1 in 2016 and later.

Madam Shirley Au-Yeung, 57, a grassroots leader of 16 years who volunteers at Sriville residents' committee in Marine Parade GRC noted that the areas with the popular schools got the most volunteers, who often came forward just for the benefits and quit after their children entered Primary 1.

"They tell me frankly that they have got what they want and will not be staying on any more."

Parents who are endorsed by the PA as active community leaders get priority to register their children in phase 2B of the Primary 1 registration exercise, along with school volunteers and those in affiliated churches or clans.

Each year, about 400 pupils make it into their parents' top choice of primary schools under this scheme.

The Straits Times understands that the process of becoming a grassroots leader involves a person being an observer for about three months, before he is appointed as a grassroots member by an adviser. Parents who want to register their children in phase 2B need a recommendation letter from the chairman of their grassroots organisation.

PA said the grassroots committee also looks at a parent's "contributions, level of passion and commitment and leadership ability" in addition to whether he or she had fulfilled the minimum service duration.

It declined to comment on why it has toughened the scheme, and how many parents it endorses each year.

Veteran grassroots leader of 20 years, Mr Zin Handair, 52, who is with the Bukit Batok East citizens' consultative committee, explained that there are about six events, such as block parties and New Year parties at each residents' committee each year, which grassroots leaders plan and organise.

"Over two years, that is about 12 events. I feel it is a better gauge of a member's commitment," he said.

Mr Fong Yoong Kheong, 28, chairman of the Eunos Zone 3 residents' committee added that if the new rules "put those parents looking for benefits off, then it is for good reason too because they will not last long anyway".

Some potential volunteers admit that the perks are the only reason they would sign up.

One man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, 39, said he is considering volunteering to get P1 registration priority for his five- year-old daughter.

"If there are no benefits then I won't do it. It's a thankless job," said the technician.

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