Second Minster for Education Dr Maliki Osman's Opening Remarks at the UPLIFT Family Befrienders' Check-In Session

Published Date: 07 August 2021 04:30 PM

News Speeches

Good afternoon

Ladies and gentlemen

My wonderful befrienders who are present with us today.

1. It is a really a pleasure to join you today for this check-in session, the first that we have organised for our UPLIFT Family Befrienders. I call you Family of Befrienders, because I think you are all joined together as one family supporting our kids in the UPLIFT Programme. Thank you so much for taking time to join us this afternoon. I see many familiar faces whom I have met at your first training session last year. I saw a lot of enthusiasm when you were undergoing the training. It is so nice to see all of you here again this afternoon. I heard that most of you have already been deployed to your respective families to engage and support them as part of the UPLIFT Community Pilot. I look forward to listening to your experiences and share your perspectives in terms of what you have gathered so far – what works, what support you need further. I am looking forward to the discussions and sharings from all of you. We thank you for your contributions and support for all the families, and I am very sure the families fully appreciate all that you have done for them.

Background and Progress of the UPLIFT Community Pilot

2. We started the UPLIFT Community Pilot as a pilot project in January 2020 in three sites – Woodlands, Kreta Ayer as well as Boon Lay. I'm glad that we are seeing significant impact in these early stages of our programme. About 80% of our students who were placed on the pilot programme at the start of 2020 saw an improvement in attendance by the end of 2020. That is certainly one of the key areas we were looking at – children who had issues with attendance – and your befriending seemed to help, and we want to hear more from you.

3. This year, we extended the pilot to Bukit Merah, and will surpass our original target of supporting more than 300 students by end-2021, one year earlier than expected. Our target was about 200, but we have gone pass that; and by end 2021, we would have helped about 300 students. As the pilot has shown very promising results, we plan to expand to other towns so as to support even more students in the next two years.

Affirmation of Family Befrienders' Efforts and Contributions

4. Family Befriending is really a key component of the pilot, and Family Befrienders, like yourselves, play a very critical role in strengthening the home and family environment for our students. By checking in regularly and rendering social-emotional support and practical help to students and families, Family Befrienders complement schools and Town-Level Coordinators' (TLCs) efforts to help build protective factors at home, such as stable home environments and awareness of the child's developmental needs. We recognise all of these challenges, and this is why we brought in all of you. Thank you for your willingness to step forward to work with us. These combined efforts help to ensure that our students receive the support they need to achieve their fullest potential.

5. Today, in addition to 19 of you here, we have slightly over 100 volunteer Family Befrienders who have already been trained. Moving forward, we intend to continue growing the pool of volunteer Family Befrienders to support the expansion of our pilot programme. That's not all. I think we want to continue to see how we can help our families, particularly given the current COVID-19 situation. We will need to do this to be in tandem with the current COVID-19 situation, because some of these families might not be receptive towards virtual engagements, especially at the start of the befriending journey. When you start befriending, you would have preferred to have more interpersonal engagement, you see them in person, you are taught about how to appreciate non-verbal cues – these are things you can better effectively harness in in-person engagements. Some of these families, understandably, are not quite comfortable with virtual engagements. So we need to take it in stride, in tandem with the current COVID-19 situation.

6. To our Family Befrienders here today, you have been very invaluable in our efforts to uplift our students and strengthen their families and home environments. You serve as the TLCs' eyes and ears on the ground, as well as helping hands to provide strong emotional support to parents who are navigating various challenges.

7. My colleagues at the Uplift Programme Office (UPO) tell me that the families and parents really appreciate all the effort and support that you have put in place, and they are really grateful to have someone to turn to for a listening ear. Some of you give very practical help. I know some of you help facilitate registration of tuition programmes with our self-help groups, amongst many other things that you have done. It is good to hear from each other later. Our schools also look forward to the support from Family Befrienders, who have been able to engage and connect with these families, and help to surface useful insights about the students' family situations to the school. Sometimes the schools try very hard but are not able to engage and connect with the families, and our befrienders have been able to fill that gap.

8. If you have any friends or colleagues who are interested in volunteering as Family Befrienders, do share your experiences and encourage them to step forward to join this very meaningful effort to support our students as we embark on our next round of recruitment. I know one of you managed to "recruit" your own spouse! And some of you may be able to recruit your siblings too. I think if you are able to share your experiences, I am sure they are very inspirational stories that will inspire many others who want to step forward to do what you have done. I am very happy to hear many of you help us in reaching out to other potential befrienders.

Conclusion

9. Thank you for taking the leap of faith to join us as our first batch of Family Befrienders. I am sure your stories are not all easy and we also want to hear some of the challenges that you might have experienced. I recall the training session that I attended in November last year, where you learned about what it means to befriend the families and students. I am happy to see that we are here to celebrate another milestone in our journey, together with you. As most of you probably realise now, no amount of scenario role-play can beat the actual experience in befriending and learning as we go along.

10. As promised, UPLIFT will journey with you, as you journey with your families. We hope this check-in session will serve as a useful learning platform for all of us here today. I am sure you have much to share with and learn from each other. I will have much to learn from all of you too, and my colleagues at the UPO will also be listening intently to some of your experiences, so that we can better create opportunities for future batches of befrienders and prepare them as they befriend our families in the next phase of our programme. I also hope to get feedback from everyone on your befriending experience so far, how the inter-agency work has facilitated your work too. This will help us level up our own capabilities in the UPLIFT programme. Let us continue to work together and build on each other's diverse experiences, so that we can better support our disadvantaged students and their families. Looking forward to hearing from you, and certainly looking forward to being inspired by all of you too. Thank you.

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