SINGAPORE - A pilot initiative by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to help at-risk students stay in school through after-school support and customised holiday programmes will be expanded to about 100 primary and secondary schools in the next few years.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday (Nov 10) that around 13,000 students will benefit from this expansion, part of a fillip to a slew of programmes aimed at narrowing inequality at the starting gate.
The scheme, known as the Uplift Enhanced School Resourcing programme, has been piloted in 23 schools since 2019, and has supported more than 2,000 students each year with their academic work and school attendance.
The MOE said an additional four to five teachers will be deployed to each school in this programme, starting with another 24 schools from next year.
Speaking at a virtual appreciation event for educators and community partners, PM Lee said that results from the pilot have been encouraging, with improvements in students' attendance.
More primary school pupils have enrolled in their school's student care centre, while secondary school students in the pilot now get along better with their classmates, he noted.
While Singapore has made great progress in uplifting its people since independence, PM Lee said there is much more that must be done to help children growing up in disadvantaged circumstances close the gaps that they started with.
"This is a never-ending mission. In every generation, there will always be some who do better and others who do less well," he said.
Singapore remains determined to prevent poverty and disadvantage from becoming entrenched from generation to generation, he added.
Another programme getting a boost is the Uplift Community Pilot, which involves volunteers checking in regularly with families and providing mentorship through home visits and phone calls.
It has supported more than 300 primary and secondary students in four areas - Boon Lay, Bukit Merah, Kreta Ayer and Woodlands - since January 2020.
From next year , it will be rolled out nationwide in stages, starting with eight more areas - Bedok, Chua Chu Kang, Geylang Serai, Jalan Besar, Punggol, Sengkang, Toa Payoh and Yishun.
The aim is to help about 1,800 students nationwide each year when fully implemented.
Likewise, KidStart, an early childhood pilot programme launched in 2016, is on track to support 5,000 children by 2023, said PM Lee.
The programme equips parents with knowledge and skills to nurture their children's early development, and monitors the developmental progress of children from birth onwards, among other things.
The scheme has shown good outcomes in helping lower-income couples prepare for parenthood and will be expanded nationwide thereafter to reach more families, he added.
"Today, over 2,000 children have benefited (from KidStart). Their parents understand better how to nurture them. The children, in turn, are more confident in interacting and socialising, and they are picking up life skills like reading," said PM Lee.
"These benefits carry through to school, and later in life."
Beyond the school system, PM Lee noted that the home environment plays a crucial role for children.
Difficulties at home, such as financial problems or conflicts, can affect children's studies, as well as their mental and emotional well-being, he said.
To this end, PM Lee said that Community Link (ComLink) will reach out to 14,000 families with young children living in public rental housing over the next three years.
ComLink is an initiative piloted by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to better coordinate the efforts of different agencies and community partners to manage such families' differing needs. Since its launch in 2019, the programme has supported about 1,000 families living in four areas.
In his speech, PM Lee said that social disparities are made more visible during crises like the Covid-19 pandemic.
For instance, switching to home-based learning was not smooth for every child, as some had limited access to laptops or lack of fast Internet connections at home, while others had to jostle for space with family members.
"Post-Covid-19, we can expect some of these differences to persist. Because this disparity is not due to Covid-19, even if the pandemic made it more visible," he said.
"And depending on whether you have family support at home, parental guidance and mentorship, or not, it can make a lasting difference in your life."