Wednesday, 17 April 2013

SINDA fixing stubborn problems

Good grades would be within the reach of many Indian pupils if parents placed their bets on SINDA's programmes, says SINDA chief Indranee Rajah. But many in the low income group are not making the effort.
By M. Nirmala, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2013

FOUR years ago, Madam Saleha Bee Said Hussain was in despair.

Her husband Roseli Hashim was in jail and she was pregnant with her fourth child. She was left alone to fend for the family in a one-room rental flat in Bedok North.

It was during her five-hour delivery of her baby that she felt an awakening. Her second son Amir, then aged five, was standing outside the delivery room, an image that is still with her now.

Madam Saleha, 37, an Indian Muslim, said: "As they wheeled me out of the delivery ward, he ran and hugged me tightly. He kept asking if I was all right.

"It was then that I decided that I was not going to have any post-natal blues or negative thoughts about raising my family.

"I told my mind to fight back in a positive way."

She sought the help of the Singapore Indian Development Association's Family Service Centre in Beatty Road and thus raised the trajectory for her family.

She moved into a two-room rental flat in Eunos Crescent, and took on a part-time job as a shipping assistant. She worked out a strict timetable for the children - no television from Mondays to Thursdays, homework to be finished and lights out at 9 pm. The rest of the week, they could watch television for a few hours.

When her husband came home from prison last year, he was stumped. He kept asking her: "how did you manage?"'

Recalling her determination to keep her children in school, Madam Saleha, who has studied up to N levels, says: "Without education, you are a nobody." Her husband has a Primary 3 education.

Madam Saleha's story shows that there is hope for the hopeless among the Indian community, if families decide to take control of their own lives and connect with Sinda's programmes for overcoming poverty and poor school grades.

SINDA president Indranee Rajah, who spoke to The Straits Times on the road ahead for the association, believes that students will be motivated to strive if someone shows faith in them.

The Senior Minister of State for Law and Education is convinced that Indian students can close the educational achievement gap and attain parity with the national average, a target that has eluded SINDA, the Indian self-help group set up 22 years ago.

But it is a daunting challenge as there is still a sizeable group which is outside SINDA's doors.

Referred to as the urban poor, many are both financially and educationally poor.

And they exist almost like a remote tribe in the HDB heartland, blind to the fact that an educational miracle is possible if parents were to take the chance to improve their lives and that of their children.

There are about 7,000 Indian students in SINDA's programmes and 5,000 are under-performing, says SINDA CEO T Raja Segar. The total number of under-performers among all Indian students could be even higher, he adds.

He says many students are part of a "veiled" underclass in Singapore, living in smaller HDB flats.

"The facade of the block looks good but the inside of the flats tell a different story. We need to convert them," he says.

To reach this group, SINDA has a bold programme called "cultivating ecosystems".

It is a coordinated action plan that involves schools, principals, Tamil teachers, Members of Parliament, the Community Development Council, religious organisations and the housing authorities.

A pilot project is being done in Taman Jurong and will be extended to other constituencies.

SINDA found in its review done two years ago, that the Indian community had made progress but stubborn problems remained.

Many Indian students had poor family support, had not been through a good pre-school education and had enduring difficulties in coping with mathematics.

SINDA is talking to Indian parents about the benefits of starting pre-school education as early as the age of two.

SINDA is using new approaches to teaching mathematics at its two main educational support programmes - STEP and Teach.

There are now 20 STEP centres that run evening tuition classes three times a week for primary to secondary students in mathematics, science and English.

Weaker students face an uphill climb as national average scores in important examinations keep soaring.

In 1990, 58.2 per cent of Indian students obtained 5 O-level passes, compared with the national average of 68.9 per cent.

In 2011, the Indian pass rate went up to 73.8 per cent but it was still below the national average of 81.6 per cent. Chinese students' scores at 85.6 per cent were well above the national average.

Poor O-level scores hinder Indian students' chances of pursuing a good post-secondary education, a hurdle that will affect their social mobility.

But Ms Rajah is optimistic.

"The community needs to pull together to help Indian students push harder to reach the educational summit and we can do it," she says.

The important ingredient that the Indian underclass needs is one that people like Madam Saleha have in abundance: grit.

Numbers add up for Sinda tuition project
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 22 May 2013

WHEN 11-year-old West Grove Primary School pupil Yeasha Ravikumar started attending mathematics tuition last year, she was not interested in the subject and had little confidence in it.

Now she turns up for every class and has developed a positive attitude towards the subject she once feared.

Yeasha is one of the pupils in Project Teach, a school-based intensive tuition programme set up in 2001 by Sinda - the Singapore Indian Development Association - to help under-performing Indian children.

"Students dare to ask more questions because of the small class sizes. They also develop more interest in learning when they get more recognition in the small group," said Mr Pillay Krishnan, vice-principal of West Grove Primary.

The school had 25 pupils in its Project Teach cohort last year and the figure has gone up to 60 this year, such has been the project's success. Throughout Singapore, there are 1,320 Project Teach students, up from 1,254 last year.

The programme, which was previously only for primary school pupils, was expanded to help secondary school students last year. Seven secondary schools have subscribed so far and "four or five more" are waiting to join, Sinda's chief executive officer Raja Segar said. He said its secondary school curriculum will focus on maths, which more students underperform in.

According to Sinda, fewer primary school pupils failed their PSLE after being put on Project Teach. Some 71.3 per cent of pupils on Project Teach failed maths at Primary 5 in 2010, but this cohort improved to 39.5 per cent the next year.

"Sinda's core programmes such as Project Teach and Step (Sinda's centre-based tuition programme) have seen much success...these programmes provide the necessary additional support to help level up students who face greater challenges," Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) and Sinda president Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

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