Government seeks to help kids from all walks of life do well in school: Senior Minister
Most of life's inequalities can be traced back to people's childhood and that is why the Government's efforts on social mobility start when Singaporeans are young, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.
Deep interventions are critical in the early years to spur children from all walks of life to do well in school, he added.
"We are determined to make every effort to help kids who start off with low-income families to have hope in life, to have confidence, and to enter primary school brimming with enthusiasm. It can be done," Mr Tharman said in the People's Action Party's talk show series on Facebook called Straight Talk.
One way the Government has been doing this is by raising the quality of pre-school education, he added, pointing out that it is doubling its expenditure in the next few years.
He also said in five years, 80 per cent of pre-school education will be supported by the Government, up from 30 per cent eight years ago.
Last year, the Early Childhood Development Agency announced that annual spending by the Government on the early childhood sector is set to double to more than $2 billion in the next few years. This is up from the $1 billion spent in 2018.
Another move to lift the standards in the pre-school sector is teacher training, Mr Tharman said, noting the National Institute of Early Childhood Development took in its first batch of trainees last year.
Beyond these efforts, targeted help for children is available too, added Mr Tharman.
He held up the KidStart programme that provides advice and support to families on aspects of bringing up children like nutrition. It was introduced in 2016. About 5,000 children are set to go through it in the next few years, he said.
BEST IN CLASS
Mr Tharman said Singapore has one of the best school systems in the world and the country ends up at the top of the tables for subjects such as reading and mathematics.
But it is not just its averages that are high, he added.
"Our children from lower income backgrounds substantially outperform children from lower income backgrounds in the advanced countries."
In fact, they do better than the average child in countries such as Switzerland, France, Germany and Sweden, he added.
Work has also gone into preventing a digital divide in Singapore, said Mr Tharman, noting that no matter how poor a family is, every child will have broadband Internet at home, which will cost as low as $6 a month.
Each child will also have a computer at home, and if they are on the Education Ministry's financial aid scheme, they will not have to pay for one.
Yesterday, Mr Tharman pointed out the differentiation between children while young is being reduced by the Government, citing the abolishment of primary school streaming more than 10 years ago.
In the same vein, secondary schools are moving away from streaming and towards full subject-based banding.
"It enables students to mix more with each other... and never think that 'I'm stronger than someone else' or 'I'm weaker than someone else' as you grow up," he said.