Parliament: Task force to look into helping disadvantaged students across all ages

SINGAPORE – The inter-agency task force set up to help children from disadvantaged homes level up, will look into helping students across all ages, although it will focus on pre-school and primary school children.

Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, who heads the eight-member panel called Uplift, short for Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce, was replying to Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 20) when she asked if the panel will look at issues affecting youth and older children in school.

Ms Indranee explained that the focus is on younger children so the Ministry of Education (MOE) can prioritise upstream interventions, where there is greatest potential for positive change and long-term impact.

But the panel has preliminarily identified three areas of focus that span all student age groups, she added.

First, it will look at shoring up the motivation and resilience of students from disadvantaged homes, so that they can get the most out of current school efforts to help them level up academically. The panel will also look at school absenteeism and the causes underlying it.

When announcing the panel last month, MOE had said that about 1.1 in 1,000 primary school pupils are absent from school 60 days or more in a year without valid reasons. At the secondary school level, this rises to 7.5 in 1,000 students. Many of these students with patchy attendance come from disadvantaged homes.

The panel, which has started to engage those who work with less privileged children and their families, will also look into stepping up parent outreach and parenting programmes to empower these families, said Ms Indranee.

Ms Indranee also answered a related question by Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) on whether the task force will consider the adequacy of the statutory levers provided in the Children and Young Persons Act.

Ms Indranee said this Act is essentially designed for the Government to take action to protect children from harm, say for example victims of physical abuse.

If a child’s schooling is affected because of harm inflicted by family members or other adults, the Act will be invoked. As the Act’s provisions are adequate for its purpose, reviewing it will not be the task force’s focus, she said, adding that the more common situation is where there is no physical harm or abuse of the children per se, but the children nevertheless underperform.

“The reasons for their underperformance are complex and multifactorial, and often have their roots in the child’s home environment and family situation,” she said .

In a written reply to a question from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) on students living in HDB rental flats, MOE said the percentage of students living in such flats was about 2 to 3 per cent over the last five years.

To Mr Ng’s question on the household income of students in the various academic streams, MOE said it does not collect data on the household income of students.

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