Parents can boost early education support

I agree with Ms Maria Loh Mun Foong that needy children need more specialised and individual early intervention in school ("Underprivileged kids need early educational support"; last Saturday).

This has the potential to address learning gaps before they become huge fissures.

However, parental or caregiver support during the early years is equally, if not more, important than school support.

Lessons can be drawn from a home-based education-support programme run by community self-help group Yayasan Mendaki.

The programme is called Maju Minda Matematika (Tiga M), which means "progressive minds in mathematics".

It was started after a survey in 2002 found that primary school children from low-income families did better in mathematics if their parents were involved in teaching mathematics skills.

The transformation started with 16 families in 2003 in a pilot programme to teach parents to facilitate the learning of mathematics concepts by their children using everyday objects in the home.

By 2005, the success of the initial programme had given birth to 15 centres running Tiga M to help underprivileged families.

Together with 37 partner organisations, the programme has progressively expanded and, at last count, has served 4,450 parents and 4,350 children.

Parents under the programme have become more confident at facilitating the learning of mathematics concepts in a fun and engaging way, and the results speak for themselves.

According to Mendaki, nine out of 10 children being helped by their parents under the Tiga M programme ended up not needing to be referred to their respective schools' learning support programme when they entered Primary 1.

In addition, more than 90 per cent of parents who went through Tiga M rated their active involvement in their children's learning as the most important factor contributing to their children's success.

By targeting the problem upstream and engaging parents and caregivers, Mendaki has demonstrated an effective model to free up the precious learning support resources needed for children with special needs or who come from dysfunctional families.

David Chin Kah Hin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'Parents can boost early education support'. Print Edition | Subscribe