Budget debate: Family befrienders trained to support irregular schoolgoers

These family befrienders are meant to check in regularly with the families and provide mentorship through home visits and phone calls. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - 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 on Wednesday (March 3).

These family befrienders are part of the ministry's pilot Uplift programme, and are meant to 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 in 2020. It aims to reach more than 300 students from disadvantaged families by 2022.

During the debate on his ministry's budget, 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, said Dr Maliki.

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 volunteering opportunity, 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 the Uplift programme.

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 in 2020 to 28,500 in 2021.

Secondary schools have also rolled out the Guiding & 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 and structure 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.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.