MOE to hire 130 student welfare officers by end of 2022 to help at-risk children

Student welfare officers work with teachers and community partners to address the needs of students with poor school attendance. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Education Ministry (MOE) is on track to have 130 student welfare officers for primary and secondary schools by the end of 2022.

Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman gave this update during an interview on Monday (Nov 29), where he spoke about his ministry's efforts to support at-risk students.

Student welfare officers work with teachers and community partners to address the needs of students with poor school attendance. MOE currently has 105 student welfare officers serving in schools.

Dr Maliki, who chairs Uplift, a multi-agency task force set up to support vulnerable students and their families, said the officers work with students in the most dire straits - those who are absent from school for prolonged periods of time or those who are statutory cases.

Statutory cases include students who have had brushes with the law and are under probation or are under the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Child Protective Service, he said.

Student welfare officers also help to connect students with community resources through an Uplift town-level coordinator in social service offices. One such coordinator handles at least 60 cases, said Dr Maliki, adding that the level of support needed varies across cases.

"The town-level coordinator works with the community network of supporters to help the family overcome obstacles that may have inhibited the child's ability to go to school or do well in school," he said.

Uplift, which was started by MOE in 2018, stands for Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce.

Dr Maliki said that students receive different levels of support in school based on their needs. "Not everybody needs a full-time counsellor; not everybody needs a professional counsellor. Some just simply need a listening ear. Some just simply need an empathetic shoulder to cry on for that particular moment," he said.

Apart from teachers, there are teacher-counsellors who are trained in basic counselling to help students who need some help. The aim is to deploy more than 1,000 such teacher-counsellors across schools in the next few years, up from about 700 currently.

"We want to continue to increase the number of teacher-counsellors... We know that some of our students, particularly because of Covid-19, are also manifesting some mental health challenges," said Dr Maliki.

Each school also has at least one in-house school counsellor, while some might have two. These are professionally trained counsellors who handle more complex cases and work with students individually to overcome certain challenges, said Dr Maliki.

Addressing concerns that teachers would be stretched too thin, with more required from them to help disadvantaged students, he said: "We know it's not easy for (teachers) to do everything. We know they need support.

"And Uplift is designed to provide that support for them to do their work, as well as for them to be able to work together with different partners and have additional resources to do the best for these children."

Serangoon Secondary School, one of the pilot schools which has been receiving more resources from MOE since 2019, set up an educational support committee last year to oversee its intervention programmes for students with greater needs.

Ms Michelle Ong, its head of department for educational support, said that with the additional manpower, the school is better able to monitor students' progress and work with community partners to develop programmes for them.

The committee also works closely with form teachers and school counsellor to see how best to help students, she said. This year, the school customised timetables for a group of Secondary 3 students who were absent from school for long periods.

"Besides learning fundamental subjects like English and mathematics, they also have sessions on life skills with the student welfare officer, where they reflect on themselves, explore their strengths through activities like canvas painting, and set targets," said Ms Ong.

"The aim is to motivate them in a small-group setting where they feel safe and confident to learn, and we don't want it to just be academic intervention."

She added that the school hopes to identify students who would benefit from such support earlier in Secondary 1.

"Change doesn't happen overnight... it takes time to help families to see little successes that their child is going through, and that's where we slowly get their buy-in, to support the child further," she said.

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