Teach Singapore empowers NUS students to pay it forward

Having previously volunteered with the elderly, second-year NUS Medicine student Celest Chiam was looking for opportunities to work with underprivileged children and youth. Thus, she and her team jumped at the chance to be part of Teach Singapore (Teach SG), an NUS community outreach programme focused on educating the next generation.

“My group members and I recognised that we had been extremely privileged, and we were able to receive many opportunities to attend enrichment classes and pursue our passions. We wanted to pay it forward,” said Celest.

“Besides providing us with funding for teaching and activity materials, Teach SG also helped us search for beneficiaries to work with and provided us with feedback on our activities. The encouragement and feedback loop helped us continuously improve our project,” she added.

Through Teach SG, Celest and her team were linked up by Care Corner under the Anglican Community Services to mentor a group of secondary school students. Since May 2021, the NUS students have been engaging their mentees using a two-pronged approach involving academic coaching and interactive sessions.

“We felt that when a deeper connection has been established between mentor and mentee, it creates a safe space; our mentees would feel more comfortable asking questions to clarify their doubts,” said Celest.

One of the beneficiaries is student Isabella Aw, who was mentored by Celest. Isabella shared, “My mentor and I have regular conversations and I like having someone whom I can relate to. After spending time with her, I started taking my studies seriously. She motivated me to come to the mentoring sessions and pursue my dreams to become a psychiatrist.”

Muhammad Rafiqi B Leman, Year 4 student at NUS Chemistry, has been working alongside three other NUS student volunteers since Feb 2022 to provide academic support and mentoring to students of Bedok Green Primary School. Rafiqi and his team adapted their academic coaching to the students’ abilities and learning styles, and also engaged the students through sports, board games and terrarium workshops.

“As an aspiring educator, I aim to be more cognisant of the diversity among children and youths…Teach SG thus presented a great opportunity for me to better understand and mentor children and youths, as well as to develop teamwork with fellow mentors,” said Rafiqi.

Reflecting on his Teach SG journey so far, Rafiqi shared that mentors too can learn a lot from their mentees. “Often, my mentees would share their day-to-day experiences and how they overcame challenges in ways that I would not have thought of. I’ve also seen my mentees voluntarily helping their peers in their schoolwork without me intervening.

“These moments have evolved my perspective towards mentoring as more of a facilitative role where mentors co-learn with their mentees.”

Impacting society through education

Today, Celest and Rafiqi are among 700 student mentors at Teach SG serving over 70 projects in partnership with 76 community partners, such as MOE UPLIFT (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce), primary and secondary schools, and social service agencies.

Piloted in January 2021, the university-wide initiative led by the NUS Office of Student Affairs has reached over 1,200 beneficiaries to date. The programme provides an avenue for NUS students to give back to the community through academic coaching and character mentorship for primary and secondary school students from lower income households.

The programme was officially launched by Minister for Education Mr Chan Chun Sing, NUS benefactor Dr Chua Thian Poh and NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye on 16 Apr. Following its strong initial success over the past 16 months, the hope is that Teach SG will achieve greater heights in the years to come.

The Teach SG programme will be further cemented within the NUS community in Academic Year 2022/2023, when it will be offered under the Communities and Engagement Pillar within the General Education curriculum. The Communities and Engagement Pillar engages students in thinking deeply about and taking constructive actions to address real-world issues such as inequality and poverty. 

Developing sustainable community leadership

On 16 Apr, Teach SG also received a generous S$10 million boost from Ho Bee Land, through its philanthropic arm Ho Bee Foundation. The gift will enable the programme to expand its reach to the community.

Ho Bee Land, together with Founder and Executive Chairman Dr Chua Thian Poh, have partnered with NUS for over a decade to develop community leadership and social responsibility in NUS students. Dr Chua’s first gift to the University in 2011 saw the founding of the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme, which was later expanded through the establishment of the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Centre in 2017 with a second gift from Dr Chua.

Minister for Education Mr Chan Chun Sing said: “Success must be when our undergraduates can take care of not only themselves and their families, but when they have that innate desire to want to do more and to do good for our society, not just in this generation, but for every generation.

I look forward to many more cohorts of NUS students aspiring to this higher goal of defining success over and beyond what they can achieve for themselves. Teach SG is a powerful movement that we are embarking on together, and one that will plant the seeds in each and every undergraduate in NUS and beyond, to define success based on what they can do for our society, country, and our people’s future.”

Speaking at the launch event, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye said, “We are deeply thankful to Ho Bee Land and Dr Chua Thian Poh for the gift of S$10 million, which will go towards empowering NUS students to provide mentorship and guidance to youths and children from low income households through Teach SG.

“Education is one of the critical enablers to achieve social mobility. Children and youths from lower income households, however, may not enjoy a level-playing field due to various challenges. We started Teach SG at NUS in the hope of addressing this area of need and doing more than just offering tuition. Teach SG will give them a better head start in life by bridging learning gaps, building character, developing good study habits, and inspiring them towards attaining tertiary education in the future. Furthermore, it will seed positive social responsibility in NUS students while reinforcing the University’s tradition of giving back to society.”

Read the press release here.

Click here for more information on joining the Teach SG programme.