SINGAPORE - 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 will kick off next year with NTUC First Campus working with the National Institute of Education (NIE), also aims to understand how the operator's present support schemes have helped children from low-income families.
The study, a first here, will track the well-being and learning progress 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, and whether there are any areas for improvement.
The children will be from 10 My First Skool centres, which are also part of KidStart, a scheme by the Early Childhood Development Agency to give a leg-up to young children from disadvantaged families through social support and parent engagement.
The study, announced by NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng on Wednesday (Dec 5) at a My First Skool pre-school at Yung An Road in Jurong, will involve two researchers from NTUC First Campus and six NIE researchers.
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 that pre-school education can play in uplifting families.
In a speech, Mr Ng said the study aims to help shape early intervention policies for at-risk children and help low-income families achieve social mobility.
He noted that 15 per cent of children at My First Skool are from low-income families, and they pay fees as low as $5 to $10 per month.
Since 2016, NTUC First Campus's support schemes have been grouped under its Child Support Model. It provides social support, along with learning programmes and financial assistance, to address the needs of children and their families.
It has been implemented across all 140 My First Skool centres, and has supported 15,000 children.
A team of 70 professionals provide services in different ways in and out of the classroom.
This could range from small-group lessons and therapy support to building relationships with parents to encourage them to send their children to school regularly, or helping families resolve their financial 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 per month, or may have mild developmental needs or learning needs.
Dr Heidi Layne, who is the principal investigator for the research study, said the researchers hope to understand the needs of low-income families and how NTUC's Child Support Model has helped children's development.
"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," said the research scientist from NIE's Office of Education Research.
Mrs Phoon Chew Ping, NTUC First Campus' Group Child Support Officer, said: "We wanted to do a comprehensive study to gain more insights and provide more 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."
One of the families who has benefited from the support is Mr Daren Oliveiro, and his wife Vivian, whose two sons are attending My First Skool at 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 workshops organised by the pre-school operator to learn parenting skills.
"We found it helpful to also talk to other parents to know that we're not alone, we have the same stress and worries," said Mr Oliveiro, 37.
The couple was also referred for counselling at Fei Yue Family Service Centre to improve their communication skills and learn to manage their difficulties as a young family.
"I wish that my children can get the support they need in school and excel based on their own individual abilities," said Mrs Oliveiro, 33.