Wednesday 24 September 2014

Pilot programme gives a hand to vulnerable youth

A 25-week scheme at four schools see youth workers reaching out to students to encourage them to talk about their personal aspirations.
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 22 Sep 2014

They are so-called “mid-risk” youth – yet to show signs of misbehaviour, but are exposed to negative influences or come from troubled families. And for the first time, a 25-week programme has been developed by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) to help lower the chances of these teens turning bad.

Instead of engaging these youths – typically identified by risk factors including troubled family backgrounds, academic underachievement and low self-esteem – directly on their negative influences or personal problems, youth workers reach out to talk about their personal aspirations.

Under Scaffold, which is offered in four participating secondary schools involving 200 lower secondary students, entire classes undergo the programme – in contrast, programmes for at-risk youth usually involve taking them aside individually.

The NCSS hopes to eventually reach out to 800 students within this three-year pilot phase.

Conducted during normal school hours, the first 10 of the 25-week programme are set aside for students to set their goals – ranging from their ambitions to personal achievements they hope to achieve in their relationships – and for youth workers to identify the skills, education pathways and personal characteristics they need to achieve these goals.

For the remaining 15 weeks, the voluntary welfare organisation plans the curriculum according to the class’ needs. The NCSS said focussing on personal aspirations is a method based on research done by Dr Daphna Oyserman, a psychology professor, which showed that helping youth identify and develop goals improved their self-efficacy.

Mr Lim Yu Kee, principal of Bedok Green Secondary School, which is one of the participating schools under Scaffold, said the programme complements the school’s Character and Citizenship Education curriculum. “Currently, about 80 Secondary One students are involved in various aspects of the programme, ranging from motivational lessons to after-school club activities that teach students life skills and teamwork,” he said.


Youth workers from Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association (CARE Singapore) and Students Care Service lead the Scaffold pilot programme, which started in April.

Mr Gary Chia, manager of youth services at CARE Singapore, said: “A lot of these youths are being left out ... If intervention is not done early enough, they could lose interest or let their family or personal problems take over, and then it will spiral downwards.”

The NCCS noted that the need to look at preventive intervention in the lower secondary years was due to observations that vulnerable students were more susceptible to dropping out of school during the transition to Sec 1 and that to Sec 3. The Education Ministry said the overall proportion of each Primary 1 cohort that does not complete secondary education had fallen from 4 per cent in 2000 to less than 1 per cent in the past five years.

“We used to take out ... difficult students from all the classes (and) put them together ... (While) they might listen to you for that bit, the minute they are back in the class setting, that’s when problems surface,” said Mr Chia.

Scaffold is offered to selected Normal stream classes at participating schools, though it is intended to be open to students from other streams as well. “Most times, the schools identify the students that require more support, and it is almost always (those from) the Normal stream classes,” said Mr Chia.

“Some students do ask why they had been specially chosen, but as the programme progresses, our experience is that Express stream students want it as well, so it becomes a special programme available (for now) only to (those in) the Normal stream, rather than a stigma,” he added.

Social workers help at-risk kids in school
Pilot scheme in 4 secondary schools aims to help students stay motivated
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2014

SOCIAL workers are going into schools to work with students who may be in danger of dropping out.

Since April this year, 200 lower secondary students from four schools have been getting help to stay motivated in school through a new pilot programme.

These students, some of whom are at risk of becoming dropouts due to family circumstances, are also being taught life skills to overcome difficulties.

Under the three-year scheme, social workers from voluntary welfare organisations such as Students Care Service and Care Singapore work with 800 students who may have troubled family backgrounds, poor grades and low self-esteem.

The Scaffold Programme, run by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), is based on a "possible selves" theory developed by University of Michigan professor Daphna Oyserman. It is broadly about examining an individual's expectations for the future.

Research in the United States has shown that the use of this method has led to students skipping school less, getting improved grades and behaving better.

Once a week, trainers take over a few classes to teach students life skills, such as how to cope with setbacks and achieve goals with good decision-making.

After-school activities, such as outings or participation in the arts and sports, are also regularly arranged for the students. It is hoped that these sessions will build up their confidence and distract them from unwholesome peers or activities outside school.

According to the NCSS, students tend to drop out of school at two key points. The critical junctures are during the transition from Primary 6 to Secondary 1 and at Secondary 3.

When asked for data on this, the Ministry of Education would say only that attrition rates have gone down. In 2000, 4 per cent of each Primary 1 cohort did not complete secondary education, but this has been less than 1 per cent in each of the last five years.

The transition to Secondary 1 can be particularly stressful for some students because it is a new environment, said Ms Tina Hung, deputy chief executive of NCSS. Behavioural problems also typically emerge in the upper secondary years, especially if the teenagers hang out with bad company.

Social workers say these periods can be trying for some teenagers, who not only come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds but are also grappling with identity issues.

To gauge the effectiveness of the programme, NCSS will do data analysis and an evaluation with the students before and after it is run. It will be extended to more schools if successful.

Mr Gary Chia, a manager at Care Singapore, said he is encouraged by the students' gradual improvement. "They are participating more in class, showing fewer behavioural issues and sharing more with us," he said.

"Sometimes what they need is for people to understand that there are reasons why they are always tired in class or not doing their homework."

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