Sunday 26 February 2012

More being done to help disadvantaged students

By Hoe Yeen Nie, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Feb 2012

More is being done to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds level up with their peers.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said this will be addressed when he presents his ministry's plans in Parliament in the coming weeks.

He was speaking to reporters after a visit to Kheng Cheng School on Friday.

During his visit, Mr Heng had breakfast with students on the School Breakfast Programme. Under the scheme, students from low-income families get vouchers for food, so they won't have to start the day on an empty stomach.

Mr Heng said he visited the school to find out how schools like Kheng Cheng are supporting students who fall behind. He sat in on a learning support class aimed at helping Primary One students who cannot quite keep up with Mathematics and English.

The Learning Support Programme is a national early intervention programme for Primary One and Primary Two pupils. Students in the programme are supported for half an hour daily by specially-trained teachers.

It is part of a nationwide early intervention programme, and Mr Heng said such schemes are constantly assessed to make sure the pedagogy is right.

He said: "The more we understand how teaching and learning can be done more effectively, the better our pupils will learn. A lot of this is not just about technical learning, a lot of it is about socio-emotional learning. When the child is motivated, he learns a lot better."

The school's principal, Mrs Lay See Neufeld, said the school's approach is to be pro-active in extending help to students who need it. This requires the school to communicate regularly with parents, and for teachers to build close bonds with their classes.

"We ensure that we actually reach out to the parent before the parent approaches the school to say, 'I need this help'. So it is actually (about) knowing the child very well and the teacher being in the frontline," she said.

It was recently announced in the Budget that the government will be increasing the qualifying income ceiling for the Education Ministry's Financial Assistance Scheme from S$1,500 a month to S$2,500. This would cover approximately 40,000 more kids from low-income households. The government will also be giving more money to be channelled into programmes for students.

The enhanced financial assistance scheme will benefit Primary Five student Nur Asyiqah Mohd Nazareen, who intends to use the extra money for assessment books and stationery.

She said: "Just for one assessment book, it costs S$15, which I can use to buy lots of pens. My mummy says that PSLE is coming up, so I need to be really focused and be really steady in what I do."

Another student who will now qualify for financial assistance is Primary Four school prefect Muhammad Schzwandy Bakhit. He plans to use the money for English books, "because in English class, we always have silent reading".

"If the financial assistance schemes gives me coupons, I can use it, and my mother can save up money to buy important stuff," he said.

Mr Heng said his ministry's plan will also address ways to get community groups involved in schools.

In particular, the ministry will outline measures to help those in student care centres benefit from a more structured approach to learning after school.

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