Self-help groups play critical and irreplaceable role in boosting social mobility: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung at the launch Vibrance @ Yishun, a self-help group centre, on Aug 5, 2018.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung at the launch Vibrance @ Yishun, a self-help group centre, on Aug 5, 2018.PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Sunday (Aug 5) called on self-help groups to work more closely with his ministry to provide academic and social support for students from vulnerable families.

This is especially necessary for those who are on the verge of dropping out of school, he said.

Noting the ongoing debate about inequality in Singapore, Mr Ong said self-help groups have played a "critical and irreplaceable role" in complementing the Government's efforts to enhance social mobility.

This is despite these groups having a combined budget of $80 million last year- less than the budgets of some government ministries.

"Although their budgets are not very big, they are an important and integral part of the help infrastructure we have for needy families and children from vulnerable families," he said at the official launch of a self-help group centre in Yishun.

Named Vibrance @ Yishun, the centre is a joint initiative between four self-help groups - the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), the Eurasian Association, the Singapore Indian Development Association and Yayasan Mendaki.

It offers programmes for students from various socio-economic backgrounds.

These include enrichment programmes for levels ranging from kindergarten to O levels, as well as a collaboration with tech giant Google on a coding programme for students.

The four self-help groups had previously partnered each other on a number of initiatives, including a tuition programme for children of all races who come from low-income families.

"Most importantly, Vibrance @ Yishun focuses on helping children from needy families," said Mr Ong, who also serves as the chairman of CDAC.

Programmes targeted at those from vulnerable backgrounds include Sinda's Literacy and Numeracy programme, aimed at preparing pre-schoolers for primary one, as well as homework programmes by Mendaki and CDAC which provide after-school support for students.

Since the soft launch of Vibrance @ Yishun in January, more than 600 students have attended programmes at the centre - 57 per cent of whom are from households in the lowest income percentile.

"This is substantial and I hope the centre will continue to do its utmost in this area," said Mr Ong.

"I hope (Vibrance @ Yishun) is successful and if it is, we will definitely study if there are opportunities to open more centres such as this. "