Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Subsidised tuition programmes: Ensuring less well-off kids are not left behind

4 ethnic self-help groups have a wealth of tutoring classes for primary and secondary students to get help from
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2015

With parents willing to fork out thousands of dollars for private coaching to give their children an edge over others, it is no wonder tuition is a billion-dollar industry.

But tuition is not just for the rich. Through the four ethnic self-help groups in Singapore, financially less well-off children have been able to receive extra academic help.

More primary and secondary school students are attending these subsidised tuition programmes by three of the four groups - Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) and Yayasan Mendaki.

The number of students in such programmes has grown by up to 67 per cent over the past five years.

The fourth group - Eurasian Association (EA) - sees a steady number of students for tuition each year.

The self-help groups told The Straits Times the spike in student numbers may be due to more low-income families recognising education as a tool in achieving social mobility, the setting up of more centres to reach out to students, and more schools helping to identify needy students who may require such tuition services.

Among the four groups, Mendaki, a self-help group for the Malay and Muslim community, noted the biggest surge in student numbers in recent years. Its tuition programme, started in 1982, has some 10,000 students this year, up from about 6,000 five years ago.

Mendaki chief executive officer Tuminah Sapawi said the increase may be due to outreach efforts, such as educational seminars, to share such programmes with the community. "More Malay and Muslim families are recognising the importance of education," she added.

Ms Gam Huey Yi, CDAC's director for student education and development, said its new centres and upgraded facilities have enabled it to reach more students in the estates. The Chinese self-help group has some 11,000 students, up from 9,000 five years back.

Ms Gam added that these tuition programmes play a part in helping students from lower-income families "achieve social mobility".

SINDA has also seen more children in its two flagship tuition programmes, the SINDA Tutorials for Enhanced Performance (STEP) and Project Teach.

STEP, designed to provide affordable after-school tuition, has 3,800 primary and secondary students this year, a 26 per cent jump from five years ago. Over the same period, Project Teach, a school-based supplementary educational programme in partnership with the schools, has seen a 6 per cent increase to 1,150 students this year.

For the EA, about 20 students tap a Collaborative Tuition Programme (CTP) to attend tuition classes yearly. The programme, launched in 2002, allows students to attend tuition classes offered by the other ethnic self-help groups, optimising the use of community resources and providing more convenience to students from less well-to-do families.

Parents who send their children for these tuition classes noted that the programmes offer academic support for their children's education, without adding significantly to their financial burden.

Among them is Mr Adrian Apps, an undertaker at Singapore Casket, whose 12-year-old son Alfonso has been attending tuition under the CTP since he was in Primary 1.

Mr Apps, a 48-year-old Eurasian, and his wife, who works in the food and beverage line, earn about $2,000 a month. They have two older sons aged 15 and 19.

"It is not easy to afford the fees at private tuition centres," he said. "We are grateful that there are such programmes for my son to attend proper tuition lessons."

Students pay subsidised fees of between $8 and $40 per subject monthly, depending on the level of study and household income. Private tuition centres may charge more than 10 times that amount.

Fee waiver schemes and further subsidies are also in place for those who may need added help.

With small class sizes, students are able to receive the required attention and help from their tutors. The self-help groups noted that most students, after joining the tuition programmes, would show at least a one grade jump in a subject.

In recent years, the self-help groups have kept up with the times, introducing new tuition programmes to cater to more students.

CDAC, for instance, has piloted a scheme which not only provides 11/2 hours of academic support, but also incorporates half an hour of outdoor games or sports. The pilot, conducted for 47 Primary 4 pupils at Frontier Primary every Saturday for three months earlier this year, was well received and will be expanded to benefit the Primary 4 and 5 cohorts next year.

Pupil Dexter Sim, 10, who was involved in the pilot, noted improvements in his English and mathematics results. "The outdoor games allow us to de-stress and have fun after studying. It keeps us motivated," he said.

SINDA is offering a new initiative called the modular academic programme, which can be customised according to the learning needs of students, and is formed based on demand. The intensive programme is open to students who score a B grade and below in subjects such as science and maths.

SINDA chief operating officer Ravindran Nagalingam said its programmes address the Indian community's "educational performance gaps", adding: "The challenge now is to get more students into the programmes, especially those who are in the bottom 20 per cent, so that they can benefit as well."

Patient tutors helped him to focus
Student credits CDAC programme for helping him to improve and giving him more confidence to sit N levels
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2015

In his early secondary school years, 17-year-old Loke Jia Jun had problems concentrating in class and would often daydream when his teachers were not looking.

As a result, the Normal (Technical) student at West Spring Secondary School in Bukit Panjang did poorly in his exams, averaging Cs and Ds for his subjects.

Hoping to improve his grades, Jia Jun enrolled in the tuition programme offered by the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), a community self-help group, in 2011.

He would attend the small-group tuition classes - of about 10 students each - for English and Mathematics at West Spring Secondary School on weekday evenings, where he would seek to grasp key concepts and clear misconceptions.

"In the past, when I had problems with my schoolwork, I had no one to approach for help. The school teachers were often busy," he said.

"But at these sessions, the tutors would patiently explain to us what we were unsure about and they gave us the attention we needed."

To combat his restlessness during tuition lessons, Jia Jun's maths tutor of two years, Ms Kwek Wan Ying, 39, would use examples from everyday life to keep him interested in the subject and help him learn concepts with ease.

Ms Kwek, who is self-employed, noted that despite having a short attention span, Jia Jun was a hard worker. She added: "As tutors, we need to encourage our students and continually motivate them to study, even when they feel like giving up."

The Secondary 4 student now averages As for Maths and Bs for English. Earlier this year, he received two awards at the CDAC Tuition Programme Awards Presentation Ceremony for his progress.

Jia Jun, who is waiting for his N-level results, said that before the national exams, his tutors would even offer students exam tips.

"It gave me more confidence to sit the N levels, knowing that my tutors were behind me, supporting me."

"I am doing well because of the foundation set by STEP" - BharathMeet Bharath who made significant improvement in Mathematics & Science. He attributes his success to the caring and inspiring tutors at STEP.
Posted by Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) on Friday, December 18, 2015

Scoring straight A*s with a little added push
SINDA programme provides less-privileged students with academic help at low cost
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2015

Natarajan Anitha Phireethi aced the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) last year, scoring four A*s and snagging a place at Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) with an aggregate score of 264.

But prior to the national exam, the 13-year-old, now in Secondary 1, had difficulty understanding concepts taught during science lessons and was prone to making careless mistakes - which cost her a few marks for some of her assignments.

The then Lianhua Primary School pupil might not have scored a clean sweep of distinctions if not for the devotion of her tutors from the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), a self-help group for the Indian community here.

"I was struggling with my science subject and could manage only an average B grade," she explained.

"But my tutors were always approachable and ready to clarify my doubts. They would take the time to go through my mistakes and explain where I had gone wrong."

When she was in Primary 4, Phireethi joined the SINDA Tutorials for Enhanced Performance - also known as the STEP programme - for English and science, and later for mathematics as well.

She was in the programme for three years, and attended after-school tuition at Clementi Primary School.

Noting that the small class size was beneficial, Phireethi said: "The tutors were able to devote more attention to each of us."

STEP, one of SINDA's flagship tuition programmes, provides opportunities for less privileged primary and secondary students to receive academic help. For primary school pupils, tuition for each subject costs about $10 per month.

Phireethi knew that typical tuition centres would charge much more, but she did not want her family to spend excessively on the extra classes.

Her father, 40, works as a quantity surveyor while her mother, 35, is a housewife. She has a younger brother, aged eight. The family lives in a four-room flat in Bukit Batok.

Phireethi's tutor, Ms Nadiah Abdul Rahim, an allied educator at Clementi Primary School, coached her in three subjects through Primary 5 and 6, and helped her improve her grades over time.

"She was a rare student who would help her classmates out when they have doubts," said Ms Nadiah, 27, adding that Phireethi was also diligent in her work.

"The tuition merely gave her the added push, but she wouldn't be able to do so well if she didn't put in her own effort."

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