Uplifting lower-SES students is social and emotional issue, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Uplifting lower-SES students is social and emotional issue

While students from lower-income homes here do better than their overseas peers from poor families, there is a need to close the gap between students from lower socio-economic status (SES) homes and those from higher SES ones.

However, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a sit-down interview with The Straits Times on Dec 27 that uplifting lower-SES students is a social and emotional issue rather than an academic issue.

He was referring to a study carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2022.

Commenting on the findings of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment study that were released on Dec 5, Mr Chan also pointed out that these students outperformed the average international student.

A representative sample of 6,606 15-year-old students from 149 secondary schools and 15 private schools took part in the study from April to May 2022.

“Lift the bottom, stretch the top. That’s our challenge,” said Mr Chan, adding that teaching methods and content are not what is important to uplift lower-SES students.

He said: “The issue is not about content mastery. The issue is actually social and emotional development and regulation.”

Mr Chan said lower-SES students require more help to develop their social and emotional competencies, as they may face more hardships due to their family and financial circumstances.

One way to do this, he added, is to provide more upstream intervention before these children enter primary school. 

“By the time they reach primary school, we would have mathematics and literacy support programmes to help them. But we find that by this age, it is already a bit late,” said Mr Chan.

But he acknowledged that for upstream intervention to be successful, parental involvement is necessary, but this can be tricky as many do not come from conventional families.

The Education Minister recounted a story that his friend, who was a teacher, had told him about a student who did not hand in an assignment on time. 

The student said that his home was very messy and there was no place to do homework. The teacher then scolded the student and asked why he could not do his homework in his own room with the door shut.

“The child looked at him and said, ‘Sir, I live in a one-room flat.’ My friend then felt really bad, that he had superimposed his world view on a poor kid he didn’t really understand,” Mr Chan said, adding that examples like these show how lower-SES students need stable and structured environments to flourish and improve academically.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. And the work is not the teaching kind, but actually a lot of social emotional regulation and development.”