SINGAPORE - 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 on Thursday (June 21) 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 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.
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 tuition and enrichment 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."
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 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's to learn and catch up so they benefit fully from education, it's actually a good thing."