Programme helps low-income families be digitally ready

With two teenage daughters who were always glued to their digital devices, Mr Mohamad Roslan Palil, 54, struggled daily to ensure they did their homework on time and got enough sleep.

When he took part in a pilot programme by Touch Community Services, Mr Roslan learnt how to use digital platforms and cyber-wellness tips and was able to better understand and communicate with his daughters - and ultimately get them to adopt better habits when using their devices.

As part of the Digitally Ready Families programme - aimed at teaching digital skills to low-income families - Mr Roslan and his wife learnt parenting strategies and how to have honest conversations with the teens - aged 13 and 14 - about their use of electronic devices. The couple also have a six-year-old son.

With the skills they have learnt, the family is now closer, and the daughters have become more disciplined in their device use and lead better and healthier lifestyles, said Mr Roslan, who is looking for a job.

He said: "The communication skills I've learnt have helped me to better manage my daughters' device use. I have also learnt how to navigate websites and do some research to get more information, like resources and courses online."

The Digitally Ready Families programme carried out the first part of its pilot from November to December last year, starting with 16 families with a household income per capita of $650 and less.

The second part of the pilot will run from this to next month, with 44 families taking part.

A post-programme survey done three months after the first run found that parents were better able to communicate the reasons for setting boundaries when their children used digital devices, leading to better compliance, said Touch Community Services.

More than 60 per cent of participating families reported less tension, it added.

The programme is supported by the President's Challenge 2021, an annual fund-raiser for the less fortunate, as well as Facebook and Microsoft through funding or volunteering.

The programme's logo and second half of the pilot were launched yesterday at the inaugural two-day Touch Family Conference held at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. More than 400 people were to have taken part, including through online sessions yesterday and today.

The conference focuses on family stress factors, family resilience and family social capital and assets, with discussions centring on issues like cyber bullying, the stress and fatigue of married women during the Covid-19 pandemic, and social capital and family well-being among low-income, single-parent families.

Touch chief executive James Tan said: "The pandemic has therefore uncovered the complexities of needs in our society. Social services now play an even more critical role to identify gaps on the ground, assess needs and work with different stakeholders to address multi-faceted issues within the family."

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong was the guest of honour at the conference, themed At The Heart Of Every Family.

In his speech, Mr Tong, who is also Second Minister for Law, said he was glad to see partnerships between the private and public sectors to support families in need.

"Sometimes it is one thing to provide the hardware, but I think it's quite another to provide the link, the software," he said.

"I think for every hardware we have, there must be 'heartware', softer touch integration, and I think that's the last-mile delivery that Touch through the Digitally Ready Families programme has provided."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2021, with the headline 'Programme helps low-income families be digitally ready'. Subscribe