SINGAPORE: There is a need for better coordination among agencies so that people who need help can access programmes for them more easily, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah on Monday (Jul 22).
This was "one of the biggest takeaways" from the outreach sessions held with social workers, social service agencies and student welfare officers, she added.
Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Education, chairs an inter-agency task force called UPLIFT, which aims to strengthen support for under-performing students from disadvantaged families. Led by the Ministry of Education (MOE), the task force is part of the Government’s ongoing work to reduce inequality and boost social mobility.
“Many of them (agencies) have programmes that are already very good. So you don't have to reinvent the programmes. But what we want to be able to do is connect the programmes with people who really need them,” Ms Indranee said in an interview with CNA938’s Arnold Gay and Yasmin Jonkers.
She added that those who gave feedback said that while there are community groups that want to lend a helping hand, in some cases, they were not sure how to “navigate it”.
CREATING A "SEAMLESS BRIDGE" IN PROVIDING HELP
Ms Indranee said the Government is already working on strengthening the partnership between schools and other community partners in helping disadvantaged students, through the setting up of the UPLIFT Programme Office at MOE.
“Some things might fall under Ministry of National Development (MND), for housing; some might fall under Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), which is financial assistance; some specialised subsections of MSF, for example, (look into) domestic violence etc. And then others may be in relation to MOE, for example, what's happening in schools,” she said.
On MSF's part, it has been bringing social services closer to the ground, and has improved coordination through its Social Service Offices (SSOs), Ms Indranee noted.
For instance, a resident who approaches the SSO for financial assistance, but also has housing issues, will get help in connecting with HDB so he does not have to visit multiple agencies, she said.
MOE and MSF already have their own frameworks for providing help, and more will be done to connect these efforts.
“So once we have connected the two, then hopefully it will have a seamless bridge at the ministry level. But you also need to connect at the ground level. So that's the second piece we'll be working on,” Ms Indranee said.
Families, on their part, must have a desire to be invested in their children’s future, she added, and have the willingness to take ownership of some of the issues they face.
Social mobility and inequality were topics that Ms Indranee touched on last week at a conference held at the National University of Singapore.
During her interview with CNA938 on Monday, she said there are other gaps that need to be plugged.
One is a gap in information, she said, as some families do not know where to find the assistance they need. Another is a gap in assistance in areas like parenting.
Ms Indranee cited the Still Face experiment, which she explained shows that children respond to engagement and interaction with parents from a very young age. In the experiment, babies get more and more distressed when their mothers do not react to them.
“If the parent is not aware of this and consciously doing it, it has an impact on your child's development. And something as simple as sharing this with young parents who may not have had children before and don't have access to all the research will make a huge difference,” she said.
Ms Indranee was also asked about criticism on streaming, and whether changes to the streaming system will address issues such as stigmatisation, which have arisen from grouping students based on ability and their performance in the Primary School Leaving Examination.
By 2024, streaming in secondary schools will be replaced by subject-based banding, and following that, the O-Level and N-Level examinations will be combined into one common national examination.
Subject-based banding will do away with the Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) streams, and use the General 1, General 2 and General 3 categories that are mapped from these streams instead.
Under the new system, students will be able to take subjects at different levels according to their abilities.
The thinking behind streaming was that different people learn at different paces, a concept that works, Ms Indranee said, pointing to a dropout rate of less than 1 per cent now, compared to nearly 45 per cent before streaming was introduced.
She acknowledged, however, that there have been unexpected consequences.
“What happened along the way, which was unintended, was that by categorising people into different groups, you had this thing about stigmatisation, and that could also lead to very self-limiting ideas that I am in this category, so I can't go further,” she said.
Teaching according to ability, as most Singapore schools have done so far, is one way to bring out the potential of students, but that is counter-productive if it limits the student’s mindset, she added.
The change in the streaming method will aim to change this mindset.
“Hopefully, in this way, you can still retain the principle of teaching according to ability and pace, but at the same time, remove stigmatisation,” Ms Indranee said.