Research To Better Help Risk Students In Singapore Education Essay

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We have chosen to embark on the topic of an alternative approach to better help at-risk students in Singapore by adapting appropriate strategies in light of our case studies.

Rationale for Choice

The presence of at-risk students who struggle with the education system is reflected by the dropout rates, as well as the number of schools adopting countermeasures. The lack of quality education leads to further issues such as low standards of living and thus should be tackled since education serves as a powerful social leveller. Furthermore, education is top priority in Singapore due to the need for a knowledge-based people as Singapore's main resource.

The current measures are inadequate due to the lack of holistic development. As such, our case studies (refer to Chapters 3) involve the Personalised Learning approach and the Experiential approach, targeting different areas of focus (refer to Chapter 2) to provide an all-rounded alternative approach to better help at-risk students.

Aims and Objectives

Our project aims to provide a standardized programme that helps students at risk undergo holistic development so that they can mature in the social, emotional and academic aspects.

To achieve this aim, our objectives are to:

Identify the gaps in Singapore's current measures to evaluate areas of focus used to critique case studies (refer to Chapter 2)

Analyse how the approaches from the case studies can be adapted in the Singapore context

Develop a programme through the combination of both approaches

Scope of Project

Target Audience

Our target group targets Secondary School students since most at-risk behaviour arise during this phase. 1% of the 1.6% of the dropout rates is composed of students in this category.

Research Methodology

The main focus of our project lies in assessing the two approaches in our case studies, combining them to be applied to Singapore.

Secondary Research

Various print and non-print material printed locally (eg. MOE press releases) and globally (eg. Eric Digest) were assessed for a holistic understanding of how the problem can be approached. For instance, the works of Kolb have been useful in identifying an Experiential Learning Model.

Primary Research

We interviewed Mr Daniel Goh, Mr Larry Lee, Dr Anderson and relevant staff from the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports and Ministry of Education to get an expert's opinion on the current situation and the approach of our programme. We also interviewed students under the CANadventure Programme (refer to Chapter 4) to better understand the profile of at-risk students. We also surveyed teachers and students in both the United States and Singapore to understand the situations in their respective contexts.


Current Situation in Singapore

In this chapter, gaps present in the current measures aimed at helping at-risk students will be discussed and areas of focus will thus be derived as criteria to assess the case studies.

Current Measures in place and Gaps Identified

Conclusions Drawn


Fig 2.1 An overview of Singapore's Approach

Source: RJ195

Time-Out Programme

This programme targets students who have poor school attendance, allowing schools to engage in activities to enhance the well-being of at-risk youth. While it provides flexibility, it is not standardized with activities determined by the school; hence they may not cover all areas of focus.

Step-Up Programme

This programme provides individualized casework to both at-risk students and out-of-school youth. (MCYS, 2010) It focuses on improving the social and emotional well-being of individuals and lacks academic focus.


Remedial Classes are the norm approach in most schools. While schools assign students in remedial hoping to increase their academic competency through increased attention (Effective Learning and Teaching), they often neglect their emotional and social well-being - both of which are important concepts in education. (Mr Lee, 2010, Gary R. Low, Darwin B. Nelson, 2005)

Summary of Conclusions Drawn

Fig 1.2 Area of Focus Identified to help at-risk students

Source: RJ195

Emotional Well-being

Students' Emotional Well-being has a decided impact on their ability to be successful learners. (White, 1998) An increase in emotional well-being leads to increased engagement in school. (Wehlage, 1989)

Social Relationships

Improving social skills leads to the ability to make lasting friendships, in turn inculcating a greater sense of belonging. (Hughes, 2009) Students would hence be able to share their problems with their fellow peers who can in turn provide alternative viewpoints.

Academic Competency

Ultimately, the goal is for students to be academically competent enough to graduate from school, and thus pave their future. This is thus a vital aspect.

Standardized Structure

While the areas of focus are targeted, it is essential to ensure standardisation to impact a large, if not the entire target group. Effectiveness would thus be enhanced.

Need for Alternatives

The current measures available are limited due to failure in attaining the three areas of focus. There is a need for a system to cater to all, providing a tailored, holistic education (PM Lee's speech, 2010). Keeping students in school is vital for the progress of the country and thus the need to implement measures to help at-risk students arises.


Case Studies:

United States of America & United Kingdom

Norm Approach:

Remedial Program for at-risk students

The current approach focuses on remedial lessons. It is not effective as the focus is on transferring information in the form of facts and procedures (Eric Digest, 2010).

Hence, students are not absorbing and applying the facts that were taught to them. Findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Dossey, Mullis, Lindquist, & Chambers, 1988) indicate that American students have difficulties in reasoning and in putting what they have learned in school to use.

Furthermore, students are taught to score well instead aiming to learn, hence the increase in grades is not reflective of their knowledge of the subject. In addition, remedial programmes do not account for the behavioural and emotional aspects of at-risk students, which are common problems with at-risk students.

Success of Current Approach

Figure 2.2 - Status dropout rates of 16- through 24-year-olds: October 1972 through October 2006

Source: Dropout rates and completion rates in the United States 2006, September 2008

A relatively high percentage of students dropped out of school in 2006 (Figure 2.2). As such, alternative approaches have been implemented, aiming to reduce dropout rates.

Overview of US/UK Strategy

Fig 2.3 An overview of the advantages and disadvantages of US/UK approach

Source: RJ195

Alternative 1: Experiential Learning Approach

Fig 3.1: Kolb's Experiential Learning Model

Overview of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is the process through which students learn from hands-on experience. The theoretical model is divided into 4 key stages arranged in a cycle, where students first experience, then reflect and rationalise, then draw conclusions and form new hypothesises (Kolb,1984).

CANadventure Programme

The CAN Adventure Programme is an example of a programme that employs experiential learning. (CANadventure 2010) A leading wilderness adventure programme that benefits students emotionally and socially with significant mental health improvements demonstrated in up to 91.4% of struggling teenagers (Aldana, S.G., 2010), it has been successful in doing so, with its Curriculum Director winning an award for its design. (CANadventure, 2010)

According to Dr Anderson, the programme focuses on students with behavioural problems and lack of motivation in academic studies. It is comprised of multiple stages, namely the Mouse, Deer, Bear and Eagle phases, each following the Experiential Learning Model closely. The Mouse and Deer phases introduce the student to the CANadventure programme, instilling key life skills such as teamwork by providing concrete experiences such as camp expeditions and challenging games. The Bear phase encourages reflection upon their experiences and gives inner strength. The Eagle phase allows students to apply their knowledge and lessons learnt to their daily living.


The hands-on education provided through the experiential learning programme stimulates interest in learning. Experiential learning, in particular 'hands-on' opportunities, can enhance undergraduate experiences and engender increased enthusiasm for the subject, increasing their confidence levels (Gawel and Greengrove 2005). This caters to those who lack interest in classroom-based learning, as shown in Figure 3.2.

Fig 3.2 Survey of 56 students to access the benefits of experiential learning programme held in CANadventure

Source: RJ195

Experiential Learning improves the psycho-social well-being of students; increasing their self-esteem (Figure 3.3). Through this programme, students are able to learn and grow out of their behavioural problems. (Conley, 2007) Students are better able to work as a group, improving their social skills, and at the same time discouraging near delinquents from committing offences. (Barrett & Greenaway, 1995).

Figure 3.3 - Survey of 56 pupils regarding success in the psycho-social aspect

Source: CANadventure


As lessons are modelled upon a standard curriculum with specific learning outcomes, experiences are artificial and may not be realistic in real-life situations. (Vince 1988; Holman, Pavlica & Thorpe 1997; Hopkins 1993)

The requirement for competent staff for successful implementation of the programme significantly limits the pool of potential instructors. Long teaching experience is also essential, leading to a shortage of labour. Increased funding needs to be pumped into this area (Sacks, 2006).

Though this mode of teaching can help improve test scores, it takes a comparatively longer time before results can emerge (Sacks, 2006).

Alternative 2: Personalised Learning Approach

This approach strives to tailor education to individual needs, interests and aptitude, so as to ensure that every student achieves his/her full potential. Personalised learning can be broken down into five components (British Key Stage 3 National Strategy, 2004):

Fig3.4 Personalised Learning Model adapted from British Key Stage 3 National Strategy

Source: RJ195

North Doncaster Technology College

North Doncaster Technology College follows the five components of Personalized learning closely.

As part of "Assessment for Learning", the college conducts regular peer assessment and an "Annual Learning Review Day", such that teachers can effectively gauge students' competency.

Information Technology is also heavily utilised in the form of interactive and multimedia lessons, thus creating "Effective Teaching and Learning".

The college also caters for the needs of older pupils in terms of curriculum choice and alternative pathways as part of "Curriculum Entitlement and Choice".

The college also has undergone several reshapings of its workforce to focus on teaching and learning, as part of creating an effective "School Organisation".

Lastly, the college organises many extra activities for parents to break down barriers and build partnerships with parents "Beyond the Classroom".


Methods utilized under the Personalised Learning approach such as the use of multimedia presentations are popular among students; it engages them in learning and hence develops self-motivation, which propels academic performance.

Figure 3.3 - Survey of 56 pupils' views on the level of Engagement of the use of technology

Source: CANadventure

The multi-pronged strategies adopted under Personalised Learning enable students to be equipped with useful and relevant knowledge skills under supervision of mentors. This is reflected by the fact that the percentage of students achieving Level 2 (GSCE or equivalent) increased from 34% to 42% from 2003 to 2006.

Success of UK Approach

The Personalised Learning approach accelerates progress by catering to every student's varying learning styles and paces. Fewer students are left behind to cope alone with the curriculum; in 2005, 100% achieved at least 1 GSCE and 97% achieved 5 or more GSCE.


This includes staff time, curriculum time and management time, whereby insufficient time is available to effectively reap the rewards of Personalised Learning. It is also a reflection of priority given to Personalised Learning.

Small Pool of Manpower

Class size is pivotal (Greenwich Conference) - a large group causes difficulties in implementation. Little manpower can be tapped on to lower the teacher-student ratio.

High Cost Implementation

Initiated programmes and strategies incur cost, which comes directly from the school. Funding is hence limited by the school's prioritization (An Investigation of Personalised Learning Approaches used by Schools, 2007) - which is often comparatively low.

Lessons Learnt

Approaches Used

Lessons Learnt

Experiential Learning

Activities involving teamwork improves social interactions and confidence of individual

Increased Engagement level will help improve students attitude towards learning

Smaller Student-teacher ratio increases effective learning time

Smaller Student-teacher ratio increases effective learning time

Personalized Learning

Fig 3.5 An overview of the lessons learnt from the UK/ US Approach

Source: RJ195

From the US/UK approach, we can draw several lessons, to be applied in Singapore.

Firstly, activities involving teamwork improve students' social interaction with others and allow them to feel good about themselves upon completion of tasks. Secondly, with smaller teacher-student ratios, there would be increased effective learning time improving their academic competence. Thirdly, engagement is important in helping students change their attitudes towards school, in turn improving their academic performance.Our interview with Mr Lee also suggests that engagement is one of the main reasons for at-risk students dropping out.

Through the combination of these two approaches, we can counter-balance the limitations and strengths in each approach to create a holistic plan that targets our three areas of focus.

Adaptation to Singapore's context

Both US and UK are developed countries which place great importance on a good education system. The US and UK are currently facing education crises. While measures have been implemented to help those in need, the problems caused are similar to those identified in Singapore. Furthermore, the target groups for both countries are at-risk students who have similar profiles; hence only a few modifications to take into account Singapore's unique diversity & culture as shown in Fig. 6.1 need be made.

Applied Approach

Approaches Used

Area of Focus

Lessons Learnt

Activities involving teamwork improves social interactions and confidence of individual

Need for Social Interactions

Experiential Electives

Experiential Learning

Need for Emotional Well-Being

Personalized Academic Assistance Programme

Smaller Student-teacher ratio increases effective learning time

Personalized Learning

Need for Academic Competency

Increased Engagement level will help improve students attitude towards learning

Fig 6.1 An overview of applied approach based on lessons learnt in US and UK

Source: RJ195

We will be discussing the use of this applied approach in Chapter 4, our proposed action plan.


Action Plan

Our Proposed Programme: Take the Lead

Identification & Selection

Counselling & sieved into necessary programmes

Reformative Phase

Personalized Learning

Experiential Learning

Ongoing Counselling

Personalized Assistance Programmes

Experiential Electives

Home Economics

Performing Arts



Fig. 4.2 Overview of Take the Lead programme

Source: RJ195

Take the Lead

An alternative programme combining both Personalized Learning and Experiential Learning approaches to help Secondary School students who are at-risk.

"Take The Lead" Programme is an after-school programme which aims to replace the current measures in place to help at-risk students (refer to Appendix A). It is a compulsory programme to be adopted by schools so that more at-risk students receive help.

Students will undergo identification and selection from day-to-day interaction with teachers based on a list of criteria. They will be given necessary counselling before undergoing the reformative phase, which consists of two approaches: experiential learning and personalized learning, during which counselling sessions are conducted periodically. Once the student is identified to have fallen out of the at-risk category, they will exit the programme and return to regular classes.

Identification Phase

The limited ability of test scores to gauge actual performance required a new set of criteria to identify at-risk students. (Gary R. Low, Darwin B. Nelson, 2005) Students will be identified based on a list of criteria laid out (refer to appendix B).

The identification process can take place anytime during the individual's secondary school education as deemed fit by the school.

Strategy 1: Ongoing Counselling

While our programme focuses mainly on the Personalised and Experiential Learning approaches, counselling remains a vital and irreplaceable part of this reformative process. Interviewee Mr Goh also mentioned that it is unique in its role to understand and reach out to students, which is primary to implementing the other strategies .

Manpower Resources

Secondary schools are equipped with one full-time qualified counsellor by MOE. These counsellors could be re-tasked to provide consistent counselling. Interaction with the students and their families would help identify the problems faced, provide students a figure from whom to seek emotional help, and give them the necessary support, improving their emotional well-being. (American Counselling Association, 2006)

Strategy 2: Introduction of Elective Programmes

The main objective of this approach is to:

Improve Emotional Well-Being of Students

Improve Social interaction

Increase engagement level towards school

Students would be exposed to a variety of modules aimed at widening their education scope (Fig. 5.4) which serves as an avenue to capture and retain these students' interests in learning, according to Mr Lee. A change of electives would occur every term to accommodate variety.


The constant teamwork allows at-risk students to work together to achieve a common goal. The increased interaction and bonding helps improve social interaction skills. Achievement of tasks also boosts their confidence.

Music Therapy

Music Therapy has proven to help people with negative feelings, increasing stress tolerance levels and harmonizing inner peace, (King, R. P., & Schwabenlender, S. A., 1994) helping to enhance social interactions.

Domestic Life Skills

The learning of domestic life skills enables students to cultivate a positive attitude towards health and well-being and encourage inventiveness and originality (The Queens' School, 2010). These programmes serve as an avenue to capture these students' interests in learning. It helps to improve the overall emotional and social well-being of the student.

Surveys of 50 Singapore students have found that 72% are in favour of introducing such elective programmes.

Fig 4.3 Survey of 50 Singapore students regarding their view on whether elective programmes should be introduced

Source: RJ195

Manpower Resources

There are various agencies that provide for experiential learning programmes, so employing them to provide the experiential learning component of our project would be within our means and resources.

Strategy 3: Personalised Academic Assistance Programme through use of Technology

The main objective of this approach is to:

Improve the Academic Competency of students

Increase engagement level towards learning

Instead of a regular classroom setting, students will undergo lessons using technology which is tailored to the individual's learning pace. Such personalized learning can allow for increased productivity resulting in effective learning and increased engagement for students. (Pearson, 2010) Teachers would be equipped with the programme to help the students throughout. An example of such a programme is NovaNet.

Fig 4.3 Survey of 50 students whether technology is suitable for implementation

Source: RJ195

Why is this programme an alternative?

The current programmes fail to provide a holistic programme that targets the three area of focus as mentioned in Chapter 2 to help at-risk students. These three focus areas play a crucial role in the all-rounded development of students. Our approach is an alternative as it combines the two approaches to come up with a unique programme with a standardized structure to help at-risk students.

Constant Review

Constant reviews of students allow them to be withdrawn from the programme when no longer at-risk. More time is therefore devoted to students who need the help.



Indications of Success

Success is indicated by the achievement of the aims of the project, with the three focus areas as assessment criteria.

As students' learning styles continue to change, there is a need to constantly review the system to effect improvement. This requires a series of indicators from teachers, peers, individuals & parents.


Fig 5.1 Assessment Criteria & Methods of assessments Identified

Source: RJ195

Academic Improvement

Improvements in academic results would be a good indicator since it is one of the core areas of focus. Keeping track of results would show us the effectiveness of our project in this respect.

Increased Engagement to School & Social Interaction

Engagement levels to school and social interaction are useful indicators since it is one of the common problems (Youth Engagement in High Schools, 2009).

Review of project will be done through three different parties - teachers, parents and students to gain a better perspective. This would allow an all-rounded and balanced view of the problem. Furthermore, proposals by the students allow them to have a say in the programme.

Overall Assessment of Project

Evaluation from External Experts

External experts (e.g. Professors from NIE) can be invited to give their feedback on the lessons, following through the course of the project to provide valuable feedback regarding the newly proposed programme.

Indicators of Success

Eventual adoption of our project by Ministry of Education would mark the success of our project.

The drop in attrition rates in the long run would be a sure indicator of the success of our programme, should it be the replacement for current methods to help at-risk students.

Probability of Success

Our proposed programme covers all three areas of focus that current measures are unable to (refer to Chapter 2). At-risk students are thus more likely to receive adequate help and thus not only improve academically, but also gain emotional and mental resilience. Furthermore, an interview with Mr. Goh reaffirmed our project and he commented that it was a good alternative to current approaches.

The involvement of external agencies and the use of technology incur costs. This may deter the Ministry from making it compulsory for the schools especially when it is a newly set-up programme, which may limit the scale of the proposed programme.

Pilot programmes can be started at certain schools. Through our assessment criteria (Refer to 5.1) we will change our programme accordingly and convince relevant authorities to employ our programme and fund schools. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education is very supportive of such programmes to better education locally. Education is also vital to our country's economic development (Prime Minister Lee's speech, 2010), hence increasing receptiveness for such an alternative.


The "Take The Lead" Programme is a sustainable alternative due to the relevance of our three areas of focus to at-risk students. Furthermore, education is a constant call for concern in today's globalized society, leading to a ready supply of manpower from agencies and NIE to help implement the programme. Tie-ups with these agencies can also be created to ensure long-term partnership.