“For children from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular, the centres provide a nurturing and structured environment in which to acquire good work habits and discipline” (Widen Reach of Student Care Centres, The Straits Times Editorial).
That there has been an increase in the number of student care centres in primary schools and a corresponding increase in enrolment figures not only reflects demand from working parents, but also signals the importance of making sure these centres deliver effective services to students. Even though it is reassuring that the government is “not seeking to increase their numbers speedily at the risk of compromising on quality” (ST, May 4), at the same time it may be meaningful to highlight centres which have been doing good work in recent years, and to further facilitate the sharing of best practices within the industry.
I benefited from a before-and-after school care service when I was in primary school. While it was not within my school, the fact that it was a short walking distance from it meant that my working parents could drop me off in the morning or pick me up in the evening. In addition to the fact that the family did not employ a domestic worker, the care service – besides arranging for meals and showers as well as allocating time for homework and revision – organised excursions or other study sessions throughout the school holidays. Fees were not steep, and within a structured environment besides engaging in academic endeavours I had also opportunities to meet with students from other schools.
Centres provide different experiences, and well-run ones can provide convenience and enrichment.
In this vein to encourage innovation of student care centres, it would be useful to showcase those which have proven outcomes or impact. In particular, looking at centres managed by non-profit organisations which – unlike commercial operators – are not necessarily driven by interest in profits, and which have more experience working with disenfranchised youths or lower-income households, should yield insights on essential programmes and services. Thereafter broader studies on the effectiveness and affordability of student care centres should follow, through perception surveys with students and their parents.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.