For some children, having an “equal head start” can mean something as basic as getting a chance to attend school or to be encouraged to stay engaged in school, never mind whether they are academically ready to catch up with their peers.
With years of experience as a community worker and now a Child Enabling Executive (CEE) at NTUC First Campus, Vicnesh Mathavan is clearly a man with a strong belief – that there is a need to establish strong rapport with parents of today, to give every child equal access to the education they deserve. This comes from his personal encounters, that when parents are disengaged, children in turn, are not given their head start in life.
As one of five CEEs under the KidStart programme, Vicnesh is currently deployed at My First Skool located in Chin Swee and his work revolves around working with families of pre-schoolers, whose monthly household income falls below $2,500. Building rapport with identified families, Vicnesh persuades parents to be more involved in their child’s pre-school progress through the centre’s engagement activities. This allows them to gain parenting knowledge and skills, hoping that parents are able to, in turn, apply these knowledge and skills back in their home environment.
“I think it is important to step up engagement with parents because they will be able to witness the progress of the child and be in a better position to encourage their child. It is actually vital for parents to be more involved in their child’s life, especially in their early years,” said Vicnesh.
In fact, Vicnesh’s strong belief that every child deserves equal access to education made him step beyond his line of duty more than once. Sharing a past incident when he was concerned over a child’s irregular pre-school attendance, he decided to visit the family at their address, only to find that the family was not staying at the stated location at all.
As it turns out, the family was facing financial issues and had gone to stay in a shelter located in the same area. To add an element of challenge, the family did not see the importance of pre-school education. Despite regularly updating the family’s social worker about the child’s irregular attendance, Vicnesh felt that there was more that he could do.
“I felt that if I did not step in to help, the attendance will continue to be irregular. I was motivated to at least impress upon the parents the importance of placing their child in an environment where their child can get to socialise and generally build up her self-confidence simply by learning new things every day,” added Vicnesh earnestly.
When he realised that the parents were hardly reachable, and had not been attending any of the centre’s engagement activities, Vicnesh delved deeper and found out that the mother had not attended a single Parent Teacher Conference (PTC) because she was not able to speak or hear.
With this realisation, Vicnesh immediately reached out to the parent, volunteering to help her out during the next PTC. Right by her side, he acted as the interpreter between the child’s teacher and the mother, helping to convey the child’s progress in pre-school using simple sign language and by speaking slowly so that the mother could lip-read. His efforts paid off when he saw the child’s pre-school attendance increase in regularity.
This situation is just one of the many cases Vicnesh sees through the course of his work. To Vicnesh, treating these families with respect and understanding their concerns are the foundations to building a firm rapport to help a child. He describes this as therapy for the families.
“I find it effective to exude a therapeutic feeling when you work with the families and listen to their concerns with understanding, respect, and seeing them as equals,” elaborated Vicnesh. He hopes that more social workers in the community will be able to view and help these families as they would their own friends, which could change their behaviours and outlook towards such families.
“It takes a village to raise a child. In this case, the community needs to build strong rapport with families to give children the head start they deserve.”
Picture source: NTUC This Week
Written by: Jamie Tan Jia Min
Jamie is a Mass Communication student at Republic Polytechnic and is currently on her internship with NTUC First Campus. In her free time, she loves to spend quality time with family or coop herself in her room to play video games, comprising of gadgets Nintendo 3DS, DS, Wii and Playstation 4.