Young teacher starts initiatives to befriend disadvantaged children
As a secondary school student, Mr Benjamin Gan had already imagined himself teaching a class.
“I was a quiet and reserved student, but I had teachers who took the trouble to get to know me better and gave me opportunities to grow,” said the 33-year-old, who now teaches English language in Gan Eng Seng Primary School. He is the school’s Primary 5 and 6 year head.
He previously taught in a secondary school before moving to the Education Ministry’s (MOE’s) headquarters in 2019, where he worked on projects such as the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce.
“I learnt a lot more about the challenges that disadvantaged students face coming to school,” said Mr Gan, who is one of this year’s six Outstanding Youth in Education Award recipients.
The national award is given by MOE to recognise young teachers for their achievements and passion. This year’s winners were chosen out of 1,488 teachers from 241 schools.
Mr Gan opted to teach at a primary school, after his stint at headquarters. “I wanted to help children at an earlier age, for example, establishing better school-going routines before secondary school and work with families who are still invested in their children’s lives.”
“I was also interested to see how younger children learn,” said the father of a five-year-old son.
In 2022, he started an after-school engagement programme called Sandbox, together with colleagues from the physical education and aesthetics department at Gan Eng Seng Primary.
The aim, he said, is to engage pupils, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, through activities like go-karting and bowling. Students from SMU Sports Union were also roped in to join the sessions regularly to befriend the pupils.
He also started another programme in 2022 to support disadvantaged pupils to adjust to school life, especially after being absent for a while.
“We realised that they can’t just plug in straight into the busy school life,” said Mr Gan.
The programme, known as Soar, which stands for Scaffolding Opportunities to Achieve Readiness, provides one-to-one academic support for these pupils, who also have a mentor - a teacher or school counsellor - who checks in on them regularly and helps keep track of their attendance.
“We give each pupil an individualised physical calendar to monitor their own attendance and this gives them more ownership as they can see how many school days they miss out,” said Mr Gan.
“For some pupils, we tell them to come back to school for three hours, for a start, until they can manage a full day.”
While teaching is rewarding, it can be tiring, said Mr Gan. “The days are long, and teaching is a very people-centered profession; we have to constantly engage students, parents and other partners.”
“It’s also an exercise in prioritisation - sometimes we can get stressed over certain elements or activities when they do not have any direct impact on our objectives.”
He added: “I see many teachers who are deeply passionate about their work and I’m confident that more younger teachers will step up.”