Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied): Mr Chairman, Sir, students from low-income families tend to be more vulnerable to long-term absenteeism in schools. For families where persistent absenteeism is an issue, I would like to propose a conditional cash transfer programme – not a transfer to the Child Development Account – for these students in Primary and Secondary schools conditional on their commitment to student early intervention programmes and regular school attendance. Such programmes, like the widely praised Bolsa Famílias, have have been found to improve school attendance and even cognitive development internationally.
This is not a novel concept in Singapore. Since 2001, The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, the STSPMF, has been providing a monthly allowance for students from low-income backgrounds conditional on school attendance. An independent study of its impact found positive feedback from parents and students. Its recipients maintain regular attendance, perform better in school, were more engaged and more confident in achieving educational goals.
Whilst specific aid programmes, such as the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS), are useful in fulfilling specific educational needs, they typically have strict conditions on the usage of the aid. Conditional cash transfers are nudges that, nevertheless, enable families to retain the freedom to choose how best to fulfil their needs, be it for better nutrition or savings for University education. The STSPMF study found that some recipients were keen to save the money. I was most heartened to read that as it could help them build healthy financial habits to cope with future difficulties. Some may object that such a policy creates moral hazard and some families may get their children to be absent to get the grant. There are levers to guard against this by keeping the grant small and directing it only at lower-income or multi-problem families.
9 March 2022
Ministry of Social and Family Development