Chill in school after class

Kent Ridge Secondary School students enjoying the facilities at its after-school centre, KR Lighthouse.
Kent Ridge Secondary School students enjoying the facilities at its after-school centre, KR Lighthouse.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Some secondary schools have set up after-school centres to keep students meaningfully engaged

Kent Ridge Secondary School student Umi Aidah used to loiter outside after school and ended up "mixing with the wrong company". She played truant and made her widower father worry by going home late.

Two years ago, her teachers invited her and a few other students to help run a new after- school centre, called KR Lighthouse, at the school.

The 15-year-old now helps out there after school. On days when she is not needed, she goes home. Her three older siblings are at work and her father, 66, is often alone at home.

Umi says: "I go home to do my homework and to keep my father company, as his health is not good due to old age."

To keep students like her meaningfully engaged after school and to groom potential leaders, the school in West Coast forked out $12,000 to convert an open area in its compound into the centre in 2014.

A survey of more than 200 students in 2013 found that 70 per cent did not like to go home after school, often because there was no "significant adult" around.

Ms Lim Chye Ling, head of the school's department for character and citizenship education, says: "It could be that their parents were working or they could not connect with their grandparents or other adults at home."

As requested by the students, KR Lighthouse comes with cafe-like facilities such as air-conditioning, board and console games, table soccer, bean bags and study tables and chairs. Art and sport activities are also organised regularly.

A team of students, or "lighthouse keepers", takes turns to run the place, which is open twice a week on days without co-curricular activities, under the guidance of a teacher or social worker.

Like Kent Ridge Secondary, East View Secondaryin Tampines has also designated a place in its compound, called D'Hangout, for students to go to after school. This came two years ago at the request of some students.

One of them, Nicholas Tan, 16, says he would be bored after school ended at around 2pm. With his parents and elder sister at work, there is nobody at home. He says: "I would hang out at the school canteen with friends or go to the mall nearby."

After he was roped in to help out at the centre, which was converted from a ground-floor classroom, it became his "second home".

He adds: "Even when I am not on duty, I go there to play pool or do my homework."

It is open every weekday for about three hours in the afternoon.

But not all schools have such centres. Some secondary school students with no adult supervision at home had to return to their former student-care centres.

For instance, Secondary 1 student Enrique Lim, 13, an only child, goes to his student-care centre at Choa Chu Kang, under the Pro-Teach Education Group, three to four times a week after school.

He says: "As my parents work, I find that going to the centre allows me to cope better with my studies."

He has been with the centre since Primary 1 and is familiar with the teachers and the environment. He is placed with Primary 6 children and can consult the teacher when he needs help with his homework.

Businessman Victor Lim, 54, wanted his only child Ash, 13, to continue at The Kidz Club, a private student-care centre in Lorong Kilat, after Primary 6.

He says: "At home, there are many distractions such as the television. My wife and I work and there are no adults at home to watch over our child."

But student-care centres here, which are allowed to take students up to age 14, say the take-up for secondary school students is not high. The fee is $300 or more a month.

Ms Jeslyn Cheong, senior associate in business management at ProTeach Education Group, which has 39 centres here, says that only a couple of its centres have secondary school students on their enrolment.

Madam Lim Huey Bian, founder of The Kidz Club, says she gets one or two secondary students a year, and sometimes none at all.

She says: "Parents often want their children to continue to go to a student-care centre in secondary school, but the students prefer to go home, even if to an empty house.

"Most of their peers have left the centre. They also feel that they are entering a new phase of life. They yearn for independence and feel the student-care centre is no longer appropriate."

Other parents, however, prefer their children to go home after school, even if there are no adults around.

Quality assurance supervisor and mother of two Shiah Hui Chyn, 41, says her elder son, Shine, used to go to The Kidz Club.

But now that the 13-year-old is in Secondary 1, she feels he is independent enough to make his own way home - his school is only a 10-minute walk or five-minute bus ride away.

She says: "I don't call to check if he has reached home. I trust him and he is generally a responsible child. If he wants to hang out with his friends after school, he will tell me at least a day in advance."

She gets home at around 6pm and says that on some occasions, she has found Shine in front of the TV, his homework still not done.

She says: "I would just tell him that he has to finish his homework before he goes to bed."

She has no regrets about her decision. "Now that he is in secondary school, I have to give him some independence and let him make his own decisions."

Shine, who has a younger brother in student care, relishes his newfound freedom.

He says: "I enjoy being home alone because there's no one nagging."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 25, 2016, with the headline 'Chill in school after class'. Print Edition | Subscribe