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Education shorts

More education schemes to aid students financially
The Straits Times - April 15, 2014
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Education shorts

More getting bursaries

MORE students are getting a helping hand with their studies, following tweaks to financial aid schemes in recent years.

Last year, about 50 per cent more students - 1.5 times the number five years ago - were on the Ministry of Education's (MOE) Financial Assistance Scheme compared to five years ago, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday. This is around 65,000 students.

Similarly, more students were also awarded bursaries for post-secondary education last year, with 47,000 receiving MOE bursaries and Community Development Council and Citizens Consultative Committee bursaries - almost thrice (2.5 times) the number five years back.

Mr Heng was replying to Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who had asked about the number of students on financial aid.

Numbers have gone up largely owing to changes in the schemes' criteria, said Mr Heng. The income ceiling for MOE's Financial Assistance Scheme was raised in 2012 from $1,500 to $2,500 a month, and a new per capita income criterion of $625 or below a month introduced, widening the scheme's coverage.

School fees, uniforms and textbooks for students from primary to pre-university levels are fully subsidised under the scheme, while primary school pupils are also given free breakfast.

Meanwhile, bursaries for post-secondary students - such as those in publicly funded universities and arts schools like the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts - were extended in 2011 to the bottom two-thirds of households.

During this year's Budget debate in March, Mr Heng had announced that bursary amounts will go up and the income cut-off raised to benefit even more students from this academic year.

He gave the various figures in Parliament yesterday to assure Mr Yam that education will remain accessible to all Singaporeans.

"No Singaporean student will be left behind as a result of his or her family's financial circumstances," said Mr Heng.



Fewer dropouts

FEWER students do not complete their secondary school education. In the last five years, the proportion of dropouts has hovered below 1 per cent compared to 4 per cent in 2000.

Similarly, fewer are dropping out of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Hawazi Daipi said in his reply to Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

Of the 25 per cent of a Primary 1 cohort that goes to ITE, 80 per cent graduate with a full certificate.

Most dropouts quit because of a "complex interplay of several factors", including difficult personal and family circumstances and negative peer influence, Mr Hawazi said.

To minimise the dropout rate, schools provide pastoral care and career guidance, as well as track students who are at risk of dropping out. One preventive measure he cited is the time-out programme, which takes students out of regular classes and provides them with customised projects to rekindle their desire to learn.

ITE too has several preventive programmes, including counselling support and a more flexible curriculum.

"This prepares students for a cluster of related careers to keep them interested, even if they are not able to enrol in their first-choice course," he added.



No stress over Pisa

SCHOOLS and students need not prepare for the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test.

And since the test is meant to be reported at a national level - not at an individual or school level - it is unlikely to create additional pressure, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in response to a question.

Singapore's 15-year-olds beat students from 43 other economies in problem- solving, according to the Pisa 2012 study released last December. They also came in second in mathematics, and third in science and reading.

The aim of taking part in Pisa is to find out how well students here are equipped with important life skills they need for their future. It is not to get a good global ranking, Mr Heng added.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) had asked if the Pisa test would put pressure on students to maintain such good performance.

Mr Heng stressed that "no preparation was required of schools and students". Later, responding to a follow-up question by Mr Lim, Mr Heng assured the MP that his ministry had no part in selecting the students.

"The sample is selected by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, who have statistical agencies that advise them on the students who are representative of the cohort," he said. "This is not just for Singapore but for all over the world, and that's why the results are meaningful."


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