Programme helps primary school children with social and behavioural difficulties

The Transit programme is set to be rolled out to all primary schools by 2026. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - When Mrs Sharlene Tan's son was just two years old, he had trouble regulating his emotions and had frequent meltdowns, screaming and scratching himself.

This behaviour continued when he entered Elias Park Primary School. Mrs Tan, 45, an accounts executive, was at her wits' end in trying to figure out how to deal with this.

Her son, whom she wanted to be identified only as M, did not really know what constituted dangerous activities, she said, citing how he would climb up on chairs and tables and play with water in slippery toilets.

In 2017, M was identified as a pupil with social and behavioural difficulties and was asked to join the school's Transition Support for Integration (Transit) programme.

The programme aims to support Primary 1 pupils with such difficulties, to aid their transition into primary school by helping them develop independence through learning foundational self-management skills based on their specific needs.

They get learning and behavioural support from allied educators and teachers in small groups and within their form classes during their first year.

The Transit programme, piloted at Elias Park Primary since 2017, is set to be rolled out to all primary schools by 2026.

At Elias Park Primary, the programme usually begins around the end of January or early February, after teachers have been given enough time to observe their Primary 1 pupils and identify those who may benefit from it.

Signs teachers look out for include pupils not being able to pay attention for long in class, or not being able to make friends.

Primary 1 pupils in the Transit programme are pulled out to attend English and Math classes separately from their form classes for about six months. The curriculum is the same, but the teaching style is different.

There are about nine Transit sessions a week, each lasting 30 minutes.

Madam Jessie Wong, 47, a teacher in the programme, said she makes an effort to ensure the children do not feel singled out or different from their peers.

"We have casual talks with them and we bring them into the classroom gradually. We build rapport with them."

During the Transit lessons, the pupils are taught things like how to raise their hands when they want to speak, and to wait to be called on by the teacher.

They also learn to deal with their emotions, as well as social skills and cues.

Even after they are integrated back into their form classes after six months, teachers keep a lookout for any needs they may have, said Madam Wong, who has over 20 years of experience as an educator.

Madam Mastura Mohamed Hashim, 41, an allied educator (learning and behavioural support) in the primary school, said both teachers and pupils have benefited from the Transit programme.

"The teachers benefited in terms of professional development, and for the pupils, we see more positive outcomes in the area of emotional regulation, their academic achievement and also in terms of social skills."

For Mrs Tan, who had tried sending M for occupational therapy sessions when he was in kindergarten, Transit has made a world of difference.

"The occupational therapy helped a little but he only went once a month. Transit helped more - he was able to pick up skills to focus and we saw the difference in him in about a month (of him joining the programme)."

She said M, who is now in Primary 5, no longer displays behavioural problems.

"He became very sensible and he has a better sense of right and wrong."

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