A team of teachers from three primary schools conceptualized and developed a special in-school programme that focuses on helping at-risk primary school students with their social and emotional learning competencies. The programme provides a platform for students to develop greater self-awareness and strengthen their relationship management and social skills.
Mdm Kylicia Soo, Mr Lawrence Lim and Mrs Stephanie Goh, all of whom head their schools’ Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) departments, are the brains behind the programme they named GEM in Me!.
Inspired by the conversations they have with their respective school’s discipline master about at-risk students, the team aims to explore how self-esteem contributes to the core development of a child. This led to the creation of a programme that helps teachers build self-confidence in this group of students at North Vista Primary School.
A Diamond in the Rough
When the team conducted an online literature review before planning for the programme, they found that low self-esteem negatively impacts a child’s self-confidence and social relationships.
“The teachers shared that students with low self-esteem are usually defiant while some are quite reserved,” Kylicia says. “They may also lack parental supervision despite the fact that an adult figure is crucial at this age.”
To identify at-risk students for this programme, the team posed students with questions such as: Do you think you are good? Are you proud of yourself? Do you respect yourself?
Subsequently, these students were invited to participate in an after-school programme (with the programme’s purpose not explicitly stated). During the programme, the teachers observe them and take into consideration the psycho-social well-being of the student.
Twenty Primary Three students were eventually identified and placed into the programme. Stephanie says of the programme, “The first stage aims to discover that they are each a GEM shining brightly. The second stage is to make them realize that they are all unique in their own ways, in which, when synergized, they can shine even brighter together.”
The first stage consists of 5 lessons with a focus on developing the “self” – self-esteem and self-confidence. The next stage of 5 lessons focuses on developing social awareness helps to widen the social circle of the child. It helps the child understand how to communicate with others better that will thus build the “self” through social relations.
As having an adult figure is crucial, they also explored ways to build a home-school partnership where either a parent or teacher could be present as a pillar of support.
“We want to find out how teachers and parents can come together to create that holistic support for the child,” Stephanie says. “But it is also important that the teacher sees the importance of the whole child so a strong teacher-student relationship must first be built.”
In addition, research also shows that at this stage of child development, the child forms his/her self-identity by experiencing little successes. “It is this sense of success that will play a part in building their self-esteem. This aspect is very important in a young child’s life and it usually occurs during the primary school years,” Stephanie adds.
“The first stage aims to discover that they are each a GEM shining brightly. The second stage is to make them realize that they are all unique in their own ways, in which, when synergized, they can shine even brighter together.”
–Stephanie elaborates on the two main stages of the GEM in Me! programme
Boosting Confidence through the Outdoors
Outdoor activities are also incorporated into the programme as the team believes that there is value in applying theory to outdoor settings.
During the trial run of the outdoor experience, Lawrence brought the students for an outdoor activity involving high elements. He soon realized that students who have a fear of heights may struggle to feel a sense of achievement through these activities. From this experience, Lawrence learns the importance of creating activities that are geared to the level of the students’ abilities and to a certain extent, needs.
He also adds that providing these students with new experiences are excellent for the purpose of the programme. “For example, their parents may not have brought them to new places such as prawning farms. When we bring them out to these places, they may serve as very memorable first-time experiences which they could share with their teachers.”
The outdoor experience also doubles up as a celebration when the child completes his/her learning journey. “We brought them for a hike up Bukit Timah Hill and we also got them to create a water globe that serves to remind them not to give up when they are down,” he adds.
Lawrence reflects, “We would like to highlight the principles behind the programme. Some people may wonder why we don’t contract an external vendor to do it. But we, as teachers, know the students well and it is for the love of our students that we run the programme for them.”
“We would like to highlight the principles behind the programme. Some people may wonder why we don’t contract an external vendor to do it. But we, as teachers, know the students well and it is for the love of our students that we run the programme for them.”
– Lawrence, on his passion in running the programme
Tracking the Progress
Besides lesson plans and activities, evaluation forms were used by both students and teachers to track the students’ progress. The team found that 78% of the students were able to apply the knowledge and skills taught while 62% students had made improvements on their self-esteem.
One teacher observed better communication between the students. Another teacher noted that students displayed a greater motivation to learn. “These are positive signs that the programme is fulfilling its purpose,” Lawrence says.
The program is aligned to both the Ministry of Education’s Framework for 21st Century Competencies and Student Outcomes, and one of the school’s aspirations – building a confident team player.
Stephanie concludes, “While self-esteem cannot be built overnight, we hope that this programme will benefit our students in the long run, so it is important that the programme aligns with the school’s aspiration.”