NTUC First Campus, the second-largest pre-school operator in Singapore after the PAP Community Foundation, will be embarking on a study to determine how pre-schoolers from disadvantaged backgrounds and their families can be best helped.
The three-year study, which kicks off next year with NTUC First Campus working with the National Institute of Education (NIE), aims to understand how the operator's present support schemes have helped children from low-income families.
A first here, the study will track the well-being and learning of up to 100 children, from the time they are in Kindergarten 1 to when they begin Primary 1 in 2021.
It will also evaluate how their families' circumstances have changed after receiving assistance.
The children will be from 10 My First Skool centres, which are also part of KidStart, a scheme to give a leg-up to young children from disadvantaged families.
The study, announced by NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng yesterday at a My First Skool pre-school in Yung An Road in Jurong, will involve two researchers from NTUC First Campus and six from NIE.
NTUC First Campus will provide up to $500,000 to fund the operating expenses for the study, which also hopes to address broader issues such as social mobility and inequality, and the role pre-school education can play in uplifting families.
Since 2016, NTUC First Campus'schemes have been grouped under its Child Support Model. It provides families with social support, along with learning programmes and financial assistance.
It has been implemented across all 140 My First Skool centres, and has supported 15,000 children.
A team of 70 professionals provides services in different ways in and out of the classroom, such as small-group lessons and helping families resolve difficulties.
Next year, another 3,000 children will benefit from such support, through a combined sum of $7.3 million pumped in by NTUC First Campus and the Government. These children come from families with a household income of up to $3,500 a month, or may have mild developmental or learning needs.
Dr Heidi Layne, a research scientist from NIE's Office of Education Research who is the principal investigator for the study, said: "Ages five to seven are very important in the preparation for Primary 1, and we do know that children from low-income families face challenges and lag behind their peers when they reach primary school. We're trying to bridge the gap for these families."
Mrs Phoon Chew Ping, NTUC First Campus' group child support officer, said: "We wanted to do a comprehensive study to gain more insights and evidence of the effects of the Child Support Model.
"We also wanted to share this Singapore approach to help children from low-income families, identify new areas of needs that may arise over time and use the evidence to support advocacy efforts with the Government."
Ages five to seven are very important in the preparation for Primary 1, and we do know that children from low-income families face challenges and lag behind their peers when they reach primary school. We're trying to bridge the gap for these families.
DR HEIDI LAYNE, a research scientist from NIE's Office of Education Research who is the principal investigator for the study, on the programme's goals.
One of the families who have benefited from the support is Mr Daren Oliveiro and his wife Vivian, whose two sons are attending My First Skool in Yung An Road. They earn about $1,500 a month as hawkers.
Their older son, now five, had trouble reading, writing and recognising letters. He also could not focus well on classroom activities.
With intervention, his literacy skills improved, said his parents, who also attended several parenting workshops organised by the pre-school operator.
"We found it helpful to also talk to other parents to know that we're not alone," said Mr Oliveiro, 37.
The couple were also referred for counselling to improve their communication skills and learn to manage their difficulties as a family.