SINGAPORE - All secondary school students will receive a personal laptop or tablet for learning by next year - seven years ahead of the original target.
The recent move by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung to bring forward the plan is one of the ways the Government, schools and the community are working together to keep social mobility alive, and ensure every individual is afforded the opportunity to do well regardless of their starting point, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday (June 17).
In a national televised broadcast, Mr Tharman, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, said social mobility is an integral part of Singapore's identity, and is the reason Singapore has been able to transform its society since the 1960s.
"Generations of children from humble backgrounds have moved up in life, through education, and by working hard in their jobs and businesses.
"Even today, Singaporeans who grow up in lower-income families have a better chance of moving up the income ladder than those in most other advanced countries," he noted as he spoke on social mobility during the fifth ministerial broadcast in a series of six.
Mr Tharman, however, cautioned that there is "nothing natural or pre-ordained about social mobility".
Every successful country has found that it gets more difficult to sustain this with time, and the gap widens when parents with higher education or who have become better off invest more in their children, moving them further ahead of the rest, he noted.
"We must never become a society where social pedigree and connections count for more than ability and effort."
Mr Tharman said the Government and its partners have been working to equalise opportunities for Singaporeans by investing in early childhood education and schools, as well as by allocating extra resources for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In early childhood, it is expanding the KidStart programme to help lower-income families and their children in the earliest years, which are critical to their development.
First introduced in 2016, it provides advice and support to families on various aspects of bringing up children, such as nutrition, child development and parent-child interaction. The aim is to enable them to have a good start in life.
The pre-school profession has also been upgraded, and the National Institute of Early Childhood Development has been set up to raise standards in the industry. " So whichever pre-school your child goes to, he or she will have a good start,' said Mr Tharman.
During the circuit breaker period, schools have also made sure every child who needs extra support will receive the attention he or she needs, he added. "Our teachers made great effort to help students from poorer homes and those at risk, to ensure they did not fall behind."
The work does not stop there, he said.
The Ministry of Education has been allocating extra resources to schools for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and they will be given even more support in the coming years, with the hiring of more teachers, allied educators, student welfare officers and teacher-counsellors, he added.
This will boost the efforts of those in schools that are supporting pupils who are doing less well in primary schools, as well as the efforts in the ministry's Uplift (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce) programme.
In Uplift, schools and the community collaborate to support students from disadvantaged families.
The additional resources will also help students to go as far as they can through the full Subject-Based Banding system in secondary schools, which allows students to take subjects at varying levels of difficulty based on their strengths.
"When you add up all we are doing, starting from the earliest years of childhood onward, we are making a determined effort to keep Singapore a place where every individual can do well, regardless of their starting points," said Mr Tharman.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.