Why Invest in Education to Help Youth-in-Need Succeed

By Shannen Fong, Head of Strategic Communications at Income, 10 May 2018 1270

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
 
According to ‘MY World’, the United Nations global survey for a better world in 20151, “a good education” was ranked as the world’s number one priority for the post-2015 development agenda. This was based on responses from nearly 1.5 million people in 194 countries. It estimated that if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty and global poverty would decline by 12%.
 
However, the poor are primarily the ones who are missing out on schooling. Based on a UNESCO policy paper2, the primary out-of-school rate is 19% in low-income countries and 3% in high-income countries, while it is 38% and 2% respectively for lower secondary out-of-school rate. For upper secondary out-of-school rate, it is 62% and 7% respectively. At the heart of these statistics lies tellingly a story of inequitable access to education simply because the direct and indirect cost of education can be limiting to families from underprivileged circumstances.
 
In 2015, when Income OrangeAid, the community development arm of Income, met with families who made a claim against the Income Family Micro-Insurance Scheme (IFMIS) to understand their circumstances better, we learnt that these households often had older children who were at the brink of dropping out or had stopped school so that they can work to supplement the families’ income. This was usually the case because the sole breadwinner of the family, typically the father, was unable to provide for the family anymore. There were many reasons for their circumstances but the primary ones were death, critical illnesses, debt and bankruptcy.
 
These families were auto-included in IFMIS, which is free for them, as they came under the Ministry of Education (MOE) Financial Assistance Scheme for primary schools. The Scheme has since evolved and is now known as the Income Family Micro-Insurance and Savings Scheme and it offers the insured, who is often the parent or guardian of a child studying in a primary school in Singapore, a maximum pay-out of $10,000 in the event that the insured dies or suffers a total and permanent disability.

As we spoke more with these families, it became clear to us that children whose parents struggled to give them a good start should not have to suffer the consequences of being set back in school and further on in life. And it is with this thought that we mooted and launched the Income OrangeAid Future Development Programme (FDP) in 2015.
 
The FDP champions education for youth-in-need studying in Institute of Technical Education (ITE) or polytechnics in Singapore through bursaries, personal development and financial literacy workshops. The intention is to keep these tertiary students from underprivileged backgrounds in school, level their playing field so that they are empowered and have more confidence in helping their families break out of their poverty cycle. This is especially important as these youths are one step away from entering the workforce.
 
Between 2015 and 2017, the FDP disbursed 1,000 bursaries to deserving youths at $2.55million. It also stood out as a bursary programme in Singapore that put its awardees through a mandated full-day personal development and financial literacy workshop. The objective is to support the education of youth-in-need beyond financial aid and to champion their discovery of self-worth and know-how in managing their priorities financially since many of them may not have good role models in their lives.

To date the FDP has disbursed 1,000 bursary awards, amounting to $2.55 million to students-in-need from the ITE and Polytechnics in Singapore.

We are glad that the FDP is making a positive impact on the students and here’s what they told us.

have more time to focus on their school work

now have funds for schools fees and expenses

learnt how to better manage their money after attending the FDP workshop

150 successful graduates to date! 52% of them graduated from ITE and polytechnics with a GPA score of more than 3 out of 4

We conducted another survey with our graduates and here's what they told us. 

55.4%

of graduates successfully found a job within 3 months of graduation

44.6%

progressed to higher education

93%

of them successfully progressed to a desired course.

 
Anecdotally, the FDP awardees indicated that they were relieved that the bursaries had helped ease the financial burden of their education on their families and that they were glad to have helped.
 
Against this backdrop, Income OrangeAid decided to deepen our positive impact and extended the FDP for another two years (2018-2019) at over $2 million. We also introduced an Alumni Programme that comprises a Coaching Programme and a Facilitator Training Programme. The latter two initiatives are designed to complement career mentoring programmes at ITE and polytechnics via coaches, whom are curated based on the awardees’ feedback on their career interests, as well as, to enable awardees to hone portable skillset as a trainer, while they earn a small stipend when they return to support peers at the FDP workshops respectively.
 
More significantly, the Facilitator Trainer Programme was mooted based on awardees’ desire to give back to their peers as they had found the bursaries and FDP workshops beneficial. We are heartened by this outcome as it had been our intention to build a community of influencers amongst our awardees so that they, in turn, can become positive role models for their peers.
 
Besides the flagship FDP, Income OrangeAid had also invested in other initiatives that champion education for at-risk youths. Collectively, through these initiatives, we have witnessed that education has provided children and youths with knowledge and skills that increase their productivity and make them less vulnerable to risks; enhanced their resilience as it prepares them to cope better with their own adversities or others’; and bridged inequality gaps.
 
Income OrangeAid Crest Quest, an educational programme partnering Crest Secondary School that centred on motivating Normal Technical students to attend and learn in school, showed that over 81% and 83% of the 705 students who participated in the programme felt improved self-confidence and in becoming a better person respectively.

In another similar initiative with the Assumption Pathway School, which accepts students whose primary school leaving examination results do not enable them to move on to mainstream secondary school, showed majority of the participating students demonstrating a higher level of responsibility, resilience and adaptability to their environment. Coupled with knowledge and the right skillset, these qualities are essential for one’s employability.
 
As a parent myself, I see qualities in children from low-income families that I admire, which are often missing in children like my own – independence, grit, generosity and a heighten sensitivity and consideration for others. These qualities are worth recognising and inculcating amongst our young and those from less privileged backgrounds have just as much potential as those from more well-off social circles.
 
Hence, Finance Minister Heng Swee Kiat’s announcement at Budget 2018 to increase the annual Edusave contributions and the annual bursary quantum at pre-university via the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme, as well as, to update the income eligibility criteria for the Edusave Merit Bursary award, is a welcomed one.
 
It is also timely since well-resourced parents are increasingly hot-housing their young children to ensure success in school and later, in life since our education system rewards precocity. As such, Singapore runs the risk of meritocracy becoming increasingly “inherited” as there is a growing tendency for more privileged children to attend branded schools, be awarded scholarships, securing better jobs and becoming well placed to network and go places. Worse, as social mobility tapers at the lower strata of our society, inter-generational poverty can become more ingrained.

A good education empowers individuals, contributes to greater economic growth, and build more stable, equitable societies. Education is widely recognised as one of the most effective development interventions. If we do not invest in education, development and progress will be limited. And if children are our future, then every child must have opportunities to make good.
In this regard, corporates have the ability to make a difference. Let’s all get to work together as there’s a lot more to be done. 
 
1campaignforeducationusa.org
2UNESCO Institute for Statistics: Global Education Monitoring Report, 2015. Policy Paper 32: Reducing global poverty through universal primary and secondary education, pg.10, Table 2.

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