By Kor Kian Beng, Political Correspondent
Students from low-income homes will soon be eligible for cheaper tuition classes, under a new nationwide scheme spearheaded by the self-help groups.
They will also get to attend classes that are held nearer their homes.
From May 1, parents can sign up for subsidies when they send their children for tuition at selected grassroots organisations.
These include classes run by residents' committees (RCs), community centres (CCs) and clubs.
As long as the family's monthly household income falls below $2,500 - or if their per capita income is below $650 a month - they can enjoy a subsidy of up to 90 per cent.
Singaporeans and permanent residents can apply for the Community Tuition Fee Subsidy Scheme.
The plan accepts students from primary school up to the Institute of Technical Education level.
The four self-help groups - the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), Mendaki, the Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda) and the Eurasian Association - are supporting this drive. They will co-fund the scheme alongside the five community development councils (CDCs).
The combined fund created will be $500,000 a year, said Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong. He chairs the CDAC education committee.
He spoke to reporters yesterday at Zhenghua Primary School in Bukit Panjang after dropping in on tuition classes conducted by the CDAC.
He said the plan will help students in recession-battered families continue classes if their parents suffer a job loss or pay cut.
'This is in line with our overall vision of social mobility, community ownership and effective integration,' he said.
The self-help groups hope to rope in 130 RCs and 30 CCs islandwide, and target 1,000 more students yearly - 200 in each CDC. The subsidies will run for at least two years before a review.
Broader benefits will flow from the scheme, he noted.
These students also have access to enrichment programmes in areas such as character development and confidence building.
Mr Gan was accompanied by representatives from the four groups, which included CDAC executive director Sam Tan and Eurasian Association president Edward D'Silva.
Mr D'Silva lauded the new system: 'We believe that no child should be deprived of basic education. In view of the financial downturn, we know more of our constituents and residents will require such help.'
Since 2002, the self-help groups have been running tuition classes at 59 selected centres in 39 constituencies. These are open to all ethnic groups.
But increasingly, students are attending tuition classes at RCs and CCs instead of centres run by self-help groups because of proximity, said Mr Tan.
'By working with the RCs and CCs, and tapping on their community outreach network, we're able to bring the tuition programme to the doorsteps of the students,' he said.
Although the classes have a mix of races, subsidies come from the respective self-help groups. Malay students, for instance, will receive their subsidy from Mendaki.
Tuition classes cost $50 to $100 a month.
Housewife Connie Lee's son is part of a pilot scheme started by the self-help groups in the Bukit Panjang, Zhenghua and Cashew constituencies.
For one year, she walked for 10 minutes twice a week with her 12-year-old son, Francis, to and from his private tutor's place.
But since February, Francis - who is taking his PSLE this year - only has to take a lift by himself for classes in an RC at the foot of his block.
And instead of paying the full $70 cost for tuition, she forks out only $7 monthly for twice-weekly lessons after a 90-per-cent CDAC subsidy.
'It's more convenient for us, definitely. I had to accompany my son to tuition classes because I was worried for his safety,' said Madam Lee.
'Also, in this poor economic climate, we welcome any kind of help that reduces our financial burden.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.