New research workgroup set up by Mendaki and NIE to help underperforming Malay/Muslim students

DPM Heng Swee Keat (centre, top) and Mendaki deputy chairman Zaqy Mohamad (centre, bottom) speaking at the fifth Mendaki Education Symposium on June 30, 2021.
DPM Heng Swee Keat (centre, top) and Mendaki deputy chairman Zaqy Mohamad (centre, bottom) speaking at the fifth Mendaki Education Symposium on June 30, 2021.PHOTO: MENDAKI

SINGAPORE - Self-help group Mendaki has set up a workgroup to tap research and prepare programmes to better help Malay/Muslim students faring poorly in school.

It will work with the National Institute of Education's Office of Education Research (OER) to inform and design the programmes, said Mr Zaqy Mohamad, deputy chairman of Mendaki.

He was speaking on Wednesday (June 30) at the opening of the fifth Mendaki Education Symposium.

The workgroup will meet quarterly to discuss research findings from the OER concerning early childhood education and low-performing students and young people.

It will also look at social trends to facilitate efforts to uplift the community, added Mr Zaqy, who is also Senior Minister of State in the Ministries of Defence and Manpower.

The online symposium saw community leaders, educators, academics, parents, policymakers and the public discuss how societal perceptions of success and education may need to shift to prepare young people and the workforce.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, the keynote speaker, said the Covid-19 pandemic has upended lives and livelihoods globally but has had an even larger impact on low-income families.

It has also disrupted many jobs, even those which were previously considered stable, like in the airline industry, he added.

"Beyond the immediate crises, Covid-19 has accelerated structural shifts," he said.

"Working from home has become prevalent. But this is only one step away from working from anywhere, which will expose our workers to even greater competition," he added.

But while some doors have closed because of the pandemic, others will open, including those in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, said Mr Heng.

"The digital revolution will raise demand for digital skills, creating more jobs in the ICT and computer science fields," he said.

"The focus on sustainability and resilience will open new frontiers and create exciting jobs in the green economy," he added.

Mr Heng gave three suggestions on how young people should be prepared to capitalise on these new opportunities.

They must be given a good foundation and a habit of lifelong learning, and be enabled to pursue their aspirations, he said.

For these conditions to be fulfilled, government agencies must continue to collaborate with community organisations like Mendaki, he said.

"One example is the suite of initiatives under Uplift, an inter-agency task force which was set up in 2018," he said.

"Mendaki is a key community partner for Uplift, with mentoring programmes to provide good role models that students can aspire to, academic support programmes to help level up those who have fallen behind, and bursaries and scholarships to encourage students to do well," he said.

Mr Heng's address was followed by a panel discussion. It featured Mr Heng, Mr Zaqy and NIE director Christine Goh.

The discussion featured questions from participants, including some on the relevance of the continuing emphasis that Singaporeans tend to place on getting a university degree.

"Many of us equate a degree with success," said Mr Heng.

"We have to shift our thinking; what matters most is lifelong learning. Jobs require skill sets and skill sets cannot be acquired just by getting a degree," he added.