SINGAPORE: An inter-agency taskforce led by the Ministry of Education (MOE) is piloting a new programme to help disadvantaged students earlier, through more community based-support.
While school-based support can be complemented by community-based programmes, “schools may not always know about these programmes. Likewise, community organisations may not always know which students and families need help,” said Second Education Minister Indranee Rajah during the committee of supply debate on Wednesday (Mar 4).
To “close this coordination gap”, the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (UPLIFT) taskforce is piloting a new programme with the Ministry of Social and Family Development in three towns - Woodlands, Kreta Ayer and Boon Lay.
A town-level coordinator based in the Social Service Office of the three towns will “integrate school-based and community-based support” under the UPLIFT Community Pilot.
“Where students have emerging attendance issue and needs that can be met by community-based programmes, schools will refer them to the coordinator,” said Ms Indranee.
“By improving coordination, we can set up protective factors around the students and their families faster, and address underlying causes of absenteeism earlier.”
MOE estimates that more than 300 students will benefit from this new system from 2020 to 2022.
SCHOOL-BASED STUDENT CARE CENTRES
MOE will also have school-based student care centres in primary and after-school programmes in secondary schools for students who “do not have a conducive home environment to return to after school”.
“Providing these students with a structured and supervised after-school environment gives them the opportunity to develop good habits, routines and skills that will help them succeed in life,” said Ms Indranee.
She added that the taskforce, which supports students from disadvantaged families, achieved its target of opening a student care centre in all 185 primary schools this year, and increased student enrolment from 3,000 students in 2012 to 27,000 this year.
Now, MOE is “stepping up efforts to identify, enrol and provide support to students who would most benefit” from these centres, said Ms Indranee.
For some families, the challenge is affordability.
Even with fee subsidies under the ComCare Student Care Fee Assistance scheme, some students on MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme still have to pay more than S$120 a month, said Ms Indranee.
Making student care centres affordable for low-income families is “an important step” towards getting their children enrolled into the centres and into “the right environment for them to do well”.
Other families face more complex challenges such as financial assistance documentation, or requiring students to go home to look after family members.
“Recognising this, we have developed a more comprehensive, proactive approach to reach out to families and tackle challenges together with them,” said Ms Indranee.
Schools will “proactively identify” students who would benefit from the student care centres and engage with their families.
MOE will also engage the community to address each family’s challenges in a “holistic and targeted way”.
The application process for the ComCare Student Care Fee Assistance Scheme will also be made simpler for families.
Teachers will guide families through the documentation and schools will “exercise judgment and be more facilitative” for families with complex challenges.
Ms Indranee noted that the pilot managed to enrol 87 out of 100 students identified, and they have seen progress in these students.
She cited the example of four siblings from Boon Lay Primary School who received “limited support at home”.
After joining their school’s student care centre, two of them have “improved their time management skills” and “manage their homework more confidently”.
Additionally, UPLIFT will support partnerships between schools and the community.
“I am very encouraged by the number of people who have come up to me to say: ‘I want to be part of UPLIFT, how can I help?’,” said Ms Indranee.
At the secondary school level, there are more than 70 schools with after-school programmes, benefitting more than 3,000 students.
“These programmes focus on befriending and mentoring by trusted adults, peer support, and interest-based activities to engage the students,” said Ms Indranee, adding that MOE is on track to offer this to 120 schools this year.
These measures are in addition to increased financial assistance for disadvantaged students that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Sweet Keat announced during his Budget speech on Feb 18.
READ: Budget 2020: Enhanced bursaries for low- and middle-income students as part of education measures
Under the increased financial assistance, the bursary quantum for pre-university students on MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme will increase from S$900 to S$1,000 per year. Students will also receive more transport and meal subsidies.