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Pilot scheme helps children from disadvantaged families do better in school

SINGAPORE — He was already beginning Kindergarten 2 classes, but Rafiqi Anaqi was unable to write his name and had difficulty reading. On top of that, he would use vulgarities and play at the void deck till late at night, and his mother, who was doing shift work at the time, was unable to make sure he went to school on time.

SINGAPORE — He was already beginning Kindergarten 2 classes, but Rafiqi Anaqi was unable to write his name and had difficulty reading. On top of that, he would use vulgarities and play at the void deck till late at night, and his mother, who was doing shift work at the time, was unable to make sure he went to school on time.

But Rafiqi, now aged seven and in Primary 1, can spell and read with some assistance. He is also spending more time at home and no longer swears, thanks to the efforts of a pilot programme aimed at helping children from disadvantaged families by providing each child and their family with educational and social support.

Rafiqi attended Care Corner Child Development Centre (Leng Kee), which is one of two childcare centres under the Circle of Care project by Lien Foundation and Care Corner.

Rafiqi’s mother, Madam R Suri, 40, recalled how a social worker would call her every other week to ask after her son and also made frequent visits to the family. Eventually, she decided to quit her job as an airport shift worker and became a security guard so that she could spend her nights with her children. She also got a relative to take her son to school on time.

“When I sit down and think about what the social worker said, I also believed that education is very important and I want the best for my kids,” she said.

The Circle of Care project piloting at the Care Corner centres at Leng Kee and Admiralty is now in its second year. The Lien Foundation has pledged S$1.8 million to fund the project over four years and early childhood expert Khoo Kim Choo has been roped in as a consultant.

Under the pilot, the Leng Kee centre hired three additional teachers and embarked on parent engagement initiatives such as workshops and outings. Currently, its K2 class has two teachers to 16 children — compared with the Government’s requirements of one teacher to 25 children.

A total of 16 children have undergone education therapy, enabling most of them to read at least 40 words. With outreach by social workers, attendances are also becoming more regular. Principal Patricia Tham noted that out of about nine children who used to arrive late for classes daily, at least three are now turning up on time.

Dr Khoo said there is a need for an integrated suite of services at pre-schools, especially for disadvantaged children. “A multi-disciplinary team offers a more holistic understanding of the child and a more comprehensive intervention,” she said.

For instance, when a teacher notices something amiss about a child’s performance, the social worker can shed light based on the child’s family situation. The therapist then works with the child based on information from the teacher and social worker. She suggested that the Government form a network of social workers and therapists for pre-schools to call on.

This year, the Circle of Care team plans to extend their education therapy to more children. They are also looking to introduce male role models — which they observed was lacking in disadvantaged families — and to improve children’s nutrition at home and in school.

While the initiative currently enjoys funding from the Lien Foundation, Care Corner Service Development Director Woo Mei Mei said Care Corner might conduct fundraising or increase fees to sustain the initiative after the four-year pilot ends.

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