On Friday, October 26, Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah announced that she will be leading a new inter-agency task force whose focus will be to provide assistance to students from underprivileged families.
Minister Rajah will head the task force, which goes by the name UPLIFT (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce). UPLIFT aims to specifically target students who are not performing well, with the goal of helping them reach their full potential.
Four other political office-holders will be involved with UPLIFT. They are Ministers of State Zaqy Mohamad and Sam Tan, and Senior Parliamentary Secretaries Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, and Low Yen Ling.
Rounding out the task force are the last three members – Deputy Secretary (Policy) for the Ministry of Education, the Deputy Secretary for the Ministry of Social and Family Development, and the CEO of the Early Childhood Development Agency.
The task force will be tackling 1) the review of existing measures to support high-needs children and their families, with particular attention to younger children; 2) the recommendation of strategies for strengthening early and upstream interventions for different profiles of students and their families; 3) the development of an integrated approach to support these children; and 4) the implementation of the initiatives, keeping in mind the long-term sustainability of intervention efforts.
The goals of the task force coincide with a report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on October 23, which placed Singapore in third place globally for upward educational mobility. It also tied in with the topics being debated over in during the Institute of Policy Studies’ (IPS) 30th anniversary conference – inequality and social mobility.
The task force also resonates with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s words during a post-National Day Rally dialogue on October 14, where he called for “social mobility”, saying that as Singapore continues to progress as a nation, it is vital that we do not leave lower-income Singaporeans behind but instead afford them the chance to “change their lives”.
UPLIFT aims to improve and inspire motivation in students by cultivating the right values and broadening the students’ life experience and exposure, which will complement current academic programmes.
It seeks to tackle drop-out rates and long-term absenteeism by developing strategies to combat the difficulties that prevent regular school attendance.
The task force plans to engage parents more through outreach and parenting programs that will provide support and empowerment to Singapore’s underprivileged families. It will also facilitate coordination between parents and any relevant agencies they need to get in touch with for scholarships and the like.
When asked about the demographic that will benefit UPLIFT’s programmes and policies, Minister Rajah said that the bottom 20 percent and possibly up to 30 or 40 percent as well will be targeted by the policies.
The bottom line, she stressed, is for the task force and stakeholders to work closely together to help the students achieve their potential.
“A key piece of the work is consulting with those in the frontline of working with disadvantaged children and their families, including school personnel, social workers, self-help groups and community partners.
We will also hear from the children and their families themselves.
Their experiences and insights will help us better understand what more we should do, and how we as a community and a society can collectively uplift those from disadvantaged backgrounds, boost social mobility and reduce inequality.”
The task force will also “map out” the support structures of current policies the Ministry of Education (MOE) has in place for disadvantaged students and will “take concrete steps to plug any gaps in [their] current ecosystem of support”.
The task force, according to Minister Rajah, is currently in the “preliminary stage” and is expected to last a duration of two years.
Next year, the task force will announce their recommendations to help underprivileged students, after spending some time brainstorming with both the community and relevant stakeholders to come up with solutions together.
The MOE will track UPLIFT’s progress and will determine if there is a need for the task force to continue its work beyond 2020.