Fri, Feb 06, 2009
The New Paper
No money, so girl, 6, misses 3 weeks of school

By Genevieve Jiang

FOR the first three weeks of this year, a 6-year-old girl did not attend school.

Her mother, Lynn, said it was because the family was too poor to afford her kindergarten fees, despite getting several government subsidies.

The 28-year-old part-time rental agent told The New Paper she had not paid the fees for four months last year, and owed the kindergarten another $115 for books.

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» Could school have been more flexible?

Because of the outstanding arrears of about $230, the school - a PAP community foundation kindergarten at Woodlands Drive 16 - told Lynn her daughter need not return to school last month, she alleged.

But a spokesman for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said the kindergarten had not given Lynn any 'specific warning that her child would not be allowed to continue her K2 education at the centre'.

Yet it wasn't until a community worker from a voluntary welfare organisation intervened, and paid the kindergarten out of his own pocket, that the child returned to school on 22 Jan.

Lynn did not want to be identified for this article as she did not want to cause her four children any embarrassment.

Looking for help

Mr Ravi Philemon, a manager at a shelter for homeless families here, first got to know about Lynn's case in the middle of last year, when the family approached the shelter for help.

They feared they might lose their home as they had not been paying the monthly $900 mortgage on their four-room flat in Woodlands for the past 11/2 years, he said.

Mr Ravi stepped in when he realised the girl had not been attending school.

He said: 'I called the kindergarten and was told that the mother had to pay the registration fees and deposit before her child could be re-admitted to school.

'Surely no child should be deprived of an education under any circumstances.'

Mr Ravi said that the kindergarten's administrator told him they had tried to help the family cope by offering Lynn a job of packing and wrapping books at the school late last year, but she declined.

She would not be paid, but the school would waive what she owed them for the work she put in.

Said Mr Ravi: 'But she not only had three other young children to care for, she also had to take care of her sick mother.

'Her circumstances simply didn't allow her to work.'

He accompanied the family to the kindergarten and paid the registration fees and deposit - about $130 - so that the girl could return to school.

Lynn claimed their money problems started in 2006 after her husband lost his full-time job at an engineering company.

She said that her husband, 33, who was taking home about $1,200 a month, continued working at the same company, but was hired on an ad-hoc basis and paid a daily rate of $42.

On a good month, he would take home between $800 and $1,000, she said. But during some months, there is no income at all.

The couple has two daughters, aged 6 and 2, and two sons, aged 9 and 4. Her eldest boy is in Primary 4, and his school fees are waived.

At the time, Lynn did not have a full-time job.

Her brother, his wife and their eight-month-old child, were then also living with her because the couple didn't have enough in their CPF to afford a flat.

Whenever Lynn could get friends to babysit her children, she worked part-time as a maid, earning $8 an hour.

Lynn's husband, who dropped out of school after Primary 6, tried looking for various jobs over the past two years, including those in security and clerical jobs. He didn't succeed because he had no computer skills and could not speak English well.

The family has been surviving since 2006 with help from the North West Community Development Council (CDC) and friends.

That year, they got $220 from the ComCare fund for three months, and another $200 from the CDC's interim financial scheme.

Between November 2007 and October last year, the CDC also helped the family with $365 every month, which included help for utilities, service and conservancy charges.

Despite the help, the family has not been able to pay the monthly mortgage for their flat. To date, they owe the bank more than $16,000, she claimed.

The couple has had to pay their instalments in cash because there is little left in their CPF accounts. Lynn's CPF statement, dated 28 Jan this year, showed that she only had $40 left in her ordinary account.

A HDB spokesman said that since 2005, it has helped her with interim measures such as allowing her to pay a reduced monthly instalment.

But she was still unable to cope.

Working things out

HDB is currently working with the family to sort out their financial problems.

In June last year, Lynn sought help at the shelter for homeless families where Mr Ravi worked.

Things were particularly bad during this period because Lynn's husband did not manage to get much work.

Since last year, the child has been on the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme (Kifas). She gets a subsidy of $82 and has to pay $28 a month in school fees, but was still unable to pay the school fees.

Lynn found part-time work as a rental agent in October last year, where she is paid based on commission. She has not been able to earn a regular income, and took home $200 in December.

Currently, the CDC still helps the family every month with $375.

She said: 'I want to sell my place and downgrade, but that takes time and money, and I have nowhere to go in the meantime. Renting a place will also take time.'

Both Lynn and her husband are still trying to get full-time jobs.

She said: 'I want my kids to be able to go to school and do well for themselves.'

This article was first published in The New Paper on February 04, 2009.

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