Sinda strides ahead

The Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), a self-help group for the Indian community in Singapore, was launched in 1991 to address the educational and socio-economic issues facing the community.

Since its inception, its aim has always been to build a strong and vibrant Indian Singaporean community, by providing the young with educational and financial help, and providing the necessary assistance and aid to low-income families.

"Our first priority is to reduce the 20 per cent of Indians in the low-income group and to narrow the gap," said Mr K. Barathan, who came on board as SINDA's CEO in July last year. "We also want to ensure that every Indian who is joining the workforce is gainfully employed and is a good citizen to the country, and we start by motivating the young."

Starting young

One of SINDA's areas of focus for 2015 is maximising educational opportunities for all students.

The self-help group has two main tuition programmes - the SINDA Tutorials for Enhanced Programme (STEP) and Project Teach. While Project Teach is a school-based supplementary educational programme, providing before- or after-school lessons for weaker students, STEP functions like tuition centres. Both programmes have customised curricula, tailored to high, middle and low achievers. The programmes currently run for maths and science.

There are plans to reduce the student-teacher ratio from the present 12 students to one teacher, so as to provide better student-teacher engagement and more personalised attention. As SINDA's tuition programmes complement the Ministry of Education syllabus, the tuition programmes are where students can clarify doubts, concepts, and so on. The self-help group is, therefore, also looking at how they can develop its own content and pedagogy that will supplement and complement the MOE syllabus.

Part of SINDA's efforts have also focused on motivating youths who are either at-risk, unmotivated or have no aspirations.

"Children from low-income families need to be given guidance in their studies," Mr Barathan explained. "We also find that youths in the Indian community need to identify their aspirations, and we then need to motivate them to achieve their goal."

Evidence of its efforts to reach out to these groups came in the form of the Positive Youth Award in November, which was handed out to 146 youths who showed positive improvement in their attitudes and are more motivated to aspire towards something meaningful.

On the other end of the spectrum, high achievers are not overlooked. Polytechnic, junior college and Institute of Technical Education students with leadership qualities are identified through their respective schools and put into the SINDA Young Leaders Programme, where their skills are groomed, while upper primary students have the Star Leadership programme.

SINDA has also been running pre-school programmes on weekends. One of its programmes is Project Read, where volunteers visit the homes of pre-schoolers to enhance their reading capabilities over a six-month period. It has also partnered with the National Library Board for Book and Shelf, a project that provided children with study corners and books to pique their interest in learning.

In 2015, SINDA plans to launch the Literacy and Numeracy Programme, geared towards pre-school children. This programme will be run by the People's Association's Indian Activity Executive Committees islandwide. The children will be taught reading and maths skills by volunteers who will be trained for the programme.

Community ties

In a bid to build stronger community ties, SINDA hopes to engage more partners in 2015. These partners include organisations, corporations and public and private business entities that have mutual interests. They also include vernacular, religious and ethnic Indian groups.

SINDA also works with other self-help groups like the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), Mendaki and the Eurasian Association. "We work together when it comes to national interest," explained Mr Barathan. "For example, if Indian students don't have a SINDA tuition programme in the vicinity of their home, they attend tuition programmes run by the other self-help groups. The same goes for SINDA's tuition programmes and other ethnic groups."

The Indian Businessleaders' Roundtable (IBR), an organisation set up by SINDA for newly-arrived senior Indian business leaders and professionals based in Singapore, was launched in 2011. Since then, IBR members have been providing both financial assistance to SINDA as well as sharing their expertise in their respective fields.

"If expert knowledge is required in certain areas, IBR members are more than ready to help, and share their time and effort with us," said Mr Barathan. They also take "a keen interest in education, with many of them lending their expertise towards shaping the curriculum of our educational programmes".

He shared with tabla! the example of one such member who helps with the HeyMath! programme, a software application that makes use of information technology to teach maths. He assists in reaching out to schools and tuition programmes, expanding the reach of the HeyMath! programme, which has been successful in helping to improve students' performance in maths.

IBR members also help to mentor youths, and sometimes conduct student attachment programmes.

Working with families

In 2015, the self-help organisation also plans to continue engaging families.

It regularly holds workshops for parents to help them to understand the current educational environment and to learn how to motivate and nurture their children. "Our workshops will continue to enable parents to function as integral members in a cohesive family, together with our financial assistance schemes for those in need of resources," Mr Barathan said.

SINDA's financial assistance schemes are not simply one-off contributions, he explained. The self-help group's Family Service Centre (FSC) is available throughout the year for those in need of assistance, and provides holistic help to not just the individual, but their family as well.

Take the example of Project Athena, a programme that helps single mothers who are struggling. A woman who enters this programme receives more than just financial assistance and help in finding career opportunities - SINDA also ensures that her children are enrolled in STEP to give them an added advantage, provides them with the necessary equipment like laptops and schoolbooks, and even takes care of her next-of-kin.

Increased financial contribution

With effect from January, Indians working in Singapore - regardless of whether they are Singaporeans, permanent residents or Employment Pass holders - will be contributing more from their salaries to SINDA. SINDA, CDAC and the Eurasian Association will also be receiving grants from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

Following a review report in 2011 entitled SINDA 2020: A New Momentum, SINDA has increased and enhanced many of its programmes and services in an effort to reach a wider audience. Consequently, costs have gone up.

In 2015, SINDA is increasing its per capita income criteria from $450 to $650 across all its programmes and services, allowing "more families and students to benefit from greater subsidised fees and other perks", said Mr Barathan.

The increased funding that SINDA will receive will enable it to expand its outreach efforts and its current programmes, in line with its aim to reach more beneficiaries.

One way that this will be done is by having banners for its tuition programmes that are specific to a particular area.

"If there is a tuition programme school in the vicinity, we will put a banner to tell them specifically that there is a programme here. Previously these banners were more generic, and now we are telling them exactly where their centres are," Mr Barathan explained.

With the increased funding, SINDA will also be able to increase the number of students in its academic programmes, open more classes and launch more initiatives targeting pre-school children. The organisation will also be able to double the number of bursaries available, providing more help to the Indian community.

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