Sinda wants parents of Indian students to be more engaged

Madam P. Amuthavalli Pillai, 40, helping her daughters S. Reshaleni, 12, and S. Rosihenie, 10, with homework. The girls are in Sinda’s Project Teach, a school-based tuition programme. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Madam P. Amuthavalli Pillai, 40, helping her daughters S. Reshaleni, 12, and S. Rosihenie, 10, with homework. The girls are in Sinda’s Project Teach, a school-based tuition programme. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Getting parents more involved is one of the keys to the Singapore Indian Development Association's (Sinda) efforts to close the performance gap between Indian students and their peers.

"If people are watching television full blast, talking, doing other activities... the signal to the kid is, first, there is a lot of distraction, and second, he is doing homework on his own," said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, who is president of the self-help group.

Sinda is currently assessing a series of initiatives announced in 2011, on its 20th anniversary, to see which were the things that worked and which did not, said Ms Indranee.

One of these involved the establishment of a Parents Division to equip parents with the skills to support their children's growth. More than 3,000 parents were reached through talks, workshops, conferences and camps last year.

And Sinda hopes to do more in this respect.

Statistics released by the Education Ministry last week showed that Indian students have fared better in national examinations over the last decade, especially in mathematics.

But their performance in general was still below the national average.

"It's true our performance has gone up, but so have others. If all things being equal, then the gap will just remain the same," said Ms Indranee.

Asked what would be the extra boost Indian students need to close the gap, she said: "I would put it as community impetus."

If the community can come together to encourage students to do better, she said, "you will find that the gap will close a lot faster".

"Sinda has limited resources... But if every Indian parent was encouraging their child, if every neighbour, every friend, every cousin... encourages the student to do well, gives them the emotional support, helps them to think in terms of aspirations, that has a very powerful effect," said Ms Indranee.

And that is why she feels the Education Ministry should continue to provide data on how students from the various ethnic groups perform - even though some have raised concerns that such data may lead to racial stereotyping.

The information allows "communities to take ownership" of the issue, she said.

"What you do not want is a scenario... where you don't know and don't notice, and let's say one group falls behind another group, and because you haven't noticed, it goes under the radar."

Besides engaging parents, Sinda also aims to expand its flagship education programmes - Project Teach and Step - in a bid to reach out to more students who need help, especially at-risk youths from low-income families.

Sinda will partner its liaison officers in schools, as well as Tamil language teachers, to identify these students.

Project Teach is a school-based intensive small-group tuition programme.

Lessons take place within the school, either before or after curriculum time.

Students pay as little as $5 a month for each subject.

Sinda is encouraging more schools to come on board for the programme, which currently involves close to 70 primary and secondary schools, and more than 1,300 students.

It hopes to attract another 100 primary and secondary schools by 2015, bringing its total student enrolment to 7,000.

Step is a general programme that provides subsidised tuition to Indian families.

Students pay between $5 and $10 monthly for each subject, depending on their level.

The self-help group is also currently assessing ways to rebrand and market its tuition programmes to reach out to more students, by reviewing and enhancing its pedagogy.

Last year, both programmes reached out to close to 5,000 primary and secondary students.

Part-time administrative clerk P. Amuthavalli Pillai, 40, who has two daughters in Project Teach at Huamin Primary, said: "The programme by Sinda helps to lighten the burden of tuition costs every month, which can be quite expensive.

"My kids are still a bit weak in mathematics, but I can see improvements in their results."