Parliament Debate on ministries’ budgets: Education

Family befrienders help uplift students

Trained volunteers check in regularly with families and provide mentorship

Family befriender Aiyadurai Rajeevan teaching five of Mr Mohammad Nazri Bakri and his wife Mariana Omar's children basic computer skills at their rental flat in Kreta Ayer on Tuesday. Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman said Mr Nazri's childre
Family befriender Aiyadurai Rajeevan teaching five of Mr Mohammad Nazri Bakri and his wife Mariana Omar's children basic computer skills at their rental flat in Kreta Ayer on Tuesday. Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman said Mr Nazri's children are now attending school more regularly with support from the Ministry of Education's pilot Uplift programme. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

About 50 volunteers have been recruited and trained to support students who need more help to attend school regularly as well as their families, said Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman.

These family befrienders, who are part of the Ministry of Education's pilot Uplift programme, check in regularly with the families and provide mentorship through home visits and phone calls.

The Uplift pilot began in the Woodlands, Kreta Ayer and Boon Lay areas last year. It aims to reach more than 300 students from disadvantaged families by next year.

During the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday, Dr Maliki said the pilot has yielded positive outcomes, with 80 per cent of about 100 students on it attending school more regularly.

As at last month, coverage has been expanded to include more students including those living in rental flats, he said.

The pilot will also be extended to Bukit Merah, and support at least 200 disadvantaged students by the end of this year.

These families will be supported by family befrienders like IT professional Aiyadurai Rajeevan.

Mr Rajeevan said he had been regularly volunteering with children but his interest was piqued by the Uplift programme as it was more unique.

"I can work with a particular family for a long period of time and progress with them and see the results and outcome," said the 35-year-old, who is married with a four-year-old son.

He added: "As a community, we have the responsibility to play a part in helping the children move ahead and complete at least their basic studies, so they can lead an independent life no matter what path they choose."

He has done three home visits so far to the family of Mr Mohammad Nazri Bakri, 35, and his wife Mariana Omar, 34, who have six children and live in Kreta Ayer.

Mr Nazri and his family had lived in Malaysia for several years. After they returned to Singapore, their children found it difficult to adjust as their academic level was lower than their peers.

Citing the family in his speech, Dr Maliki said Mr Nazri's children are now attending school more regularly with support from Uplift.

The Education Ministry will continue to bring on board more community partners to support the programme, he added.

It is also strengthening after-school care and support, in particular for those who do not have conducive home environments, he said, noting that student care centres have been set up in all 186 primary schools since last year.

The ministry is concerned about students who may benefit from these centres but are not currently enrolled, he added. That is why all primary schools are proactively reaching out to the parents of such students this year.

The total number of students enrolled in school-based Student Care Centres has increased from 27,000 last year to 28,500 this year.

Secondary schools have also rolled out the Guiding and Empowering students for Affiliation and Resilience to Unlock their Potential (Gear-Up) programme, to target students who benefit from more structured after-school supervision and support, he said.

Senior social worker Wong Ying Li said proactive outreach is needed, as many children or young people who are not used to following a fixed routine may be resistant to attending after-school care.

"Without appropriate adult supervision, there is a higher risk of them being in physical or emotional danger, or they may risk getting negatively influenced if they were to loiter around without adult supervision," added Ms Wong, who is also head of youth services at Fei Yue Community Services.

She added that for lower-income families, having good and affordable after-school care allows parents to continue working and contribute back to the family's income.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2021, with the headline 'Family befrienders help uplift students'. Subscribe