More CDAC support for needy students and parents

Education Minister and CDAC chairman Ong Ye Kung (second from left) with other CDAC board members (from left) Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Social and Family Developm
Education Minister and CDAC chairman Ong Ye Kung (second from left) with other CDAC board members (from left) Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Social and Family Development Sam Tan and Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat speaking to reporters after the CDAC's annual general meeting yesterday.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Tuition will be given in smaller groups, CDAC to subsidise more of fees they pay for lessons

A new approach is being adopted by the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), a self-help group, to help the community's needy students and their parents.

The tuition for these students to keep up with their school lessons will be given in smaller groups.

Also, it will subsidise a bigger portion of the fees they pay for the lessons, while the better-off will pay full fees.

This differentiated approach was announced yesterday by CDAC chairman Ong Ye Kung, who is also the Education Minister.

It is necessary, he said, because the social mobility Singapore has achieved has also led to lower-income families finding it even harder to catch up with the better-off.

Speaking to reporters after CDAC's annual general meeting, he said that a decade ago, children from families earning less than $3,000 a month made up 20 per cent of the student population in primary schools.

IRONIC SITUATION

The ironical thing is, the more we do, and the more we support students with talent to let them go as far they can... the wider (will be) the (inequality) gap.

CDAC CHAIRMAN ONG YE KUNG, who is also Education Minister.

Now, this figure, which takes inflation into account, has dropped to 14 per cent as more households, after receiving help, have managed to upgrade themselves, he said.

There is a good chance those left behind face challenges that are more dire than 10 years ago, he added.

This new strategy - called "planting grass and growing trees" - in CDAC's programmes comes amid a nationwide focus on battling social stratification. Mr Ong noted: "The ironical thing is, the more we do, and the more we support students with talent to let them go as far they can... the wider (will be) the (inequality) gap."

Still, the CDAC will press on to tackle inequality even if this gets "harder and harder", he said.

The self-help group can help "finish the last mile" by knocking on doors to give families advice and access to opportunities.

Mr Ong was appointed to the CDAC board in 2010 and made its chairman in June last year.

Yesterday, he was reappointed chairman by CDAC's patron, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, for a two-year term .

Vowing to "uphold the spirit of self-reliance and hard work", Mr Ong said $1.15 million has been disbursed to 1,600 needy post-secondary students through a new programme launched in April last year.

By end-2020, the CDAC, with other self-help groups, will also set up nine more student care centres, bringing the total in schools to 30.

Programmes for workers and families were integrated last year for better all-round support, said CDAC board member Sam Tan, who is also Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Social and Family Development.

"If a father came to us for help to look for a job with better pay, for example, we will also ask if his wife wants to upgrade her skills or if their child needs help with his or her grades," he said.

Last year, about 21,000 households benefited from CDAC's programmes. A total of 42,500 places were taken up in its tuition and enrichment programmes, and 8,800 needy students received bursaries and subsidies.

Mr Ong acknowledged that it is "always a dilemma" for him to answer whether tuition is necessary, given his two hats as Education Minister and CDAC chairman.

It may not be right for him to advise parents against tuition, he said, as they naturally want their children to do well in school. "What we don't want is to go overboard to the extent that it becomes ultra-competitive...But if it is to learn and catch up so they benefit fully from education, it is actually a good thing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2018, with the headline 'More CDAC support for needy students and parents'. Print Edition | Subscribe