Mrs Chua Yen Ching: Principal of Northlight School on How to Mentor Youths

The Dads for Life Resource Team interviewed Mrs Chua Yen Ching, Principal of Northlight School (NLS), a secondary school that offers youths who face difficulties with mainstream education and examinations, an environment and support systems to help them find their way, and their motivation – to succeed in life.

Mrs Chua, it is a pleasure to be able to have this interview with you. Could you please give us a brief background on Northlight School (NLS)?

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The students in NLS are given a choice to join NLS or to repeat their PSLE. Because of their PSLE results, many struggle with low self-esteem and they feel miserable that they have disappointed their parents. We work with them to explore the different meanings of success and to help them to discover and develop their talents.

We are very encouraged when many of them are able to exceed their limits and when they come to school regularly even though many students live very far from the school. We are especially happy to see our students discover the joy of learning.

Please share about the students of NLS. Are there any special challenges that they have to overcome?

Many of them have low self–confidence and low self-esteem and we need to help them find their self-belief and empower them to take positive action. They also have poor self-control. In NLS, character development is key. Though we may provide them with the skills, ultimately what is more important is their work attitude.

Every student has to go through an eight-week industrial attachment. Oftentimes, those who cannot complete are not lacking in terms of skills, but what they usually lack is persistence and resilience. We need to ensure that they build strong character, which will see them through in the workplace environment.

Some may come from difficult home situations; we help them to understand that education is an equalizer and that they can make a difference in spite of the difficulties with their family life.

Do you offer a mentoring programme or system to help students face their challenges?

Many of the students like their teachers and they see them as their mentors. We are also very grateful to the community as many of the employers who participate in our industrial attachment send their best employees to be mentors to our students. We are especially gratified when such mentors end up acting as positive adult role models.

How can Singapore fathers complement the school’s efforts at offering a values-focused education?

Every term, we conduct a family activity and we encourage fathers of our students to participate. This is because their fathers are often very busy at work, and spend little time at home. Consequently, their children miss them.

There could also be students who come from single parent families and they may not have an adult male role model at home. We try to rope in other parents, teachers and also our partners to serve as adult male role models for these students.

Last year, we organised a camp and a few students wanted to come but their fathers were not free. It was heartening to see a few fathers holding two boys – their son on one side and on the other, their son’s schoolmate.

During the camp, the parents had the chance to interact with their children and to do things like learn how to service an air con unit, or how to prepare a meal. These are activities that they can do at home. One student said, “This is the happiest day of my life as my father spent a whole weekend with me.”

Another girl found that her relationship with her father improved and she came to understand why her dad had to be strict. She subsequently took part in a competition organised by the SE CDC on “I Love my Mum and Dad” and she won a prize. At the prize presentation ceremony she invited her dad to attend and it was such a touching moment to see her relationship with her father blossom.

In offering specialised programmes (eg. the Northlight Programme), what are the key objectives targeted by you and your team?

The Northlight Programme is our character development programme.

It comprises life skills, values and current affairs. Every child has a personalised Emotional Quotient (EQ) profile and we want their EQ score to improve by a certain level before they leave us. Sports and wellness as well as aesthetics are also aimed at character development.

Every student has to go through a visual art, drama, music or movement programme, and from here we discover what he or she is good at. For sports and wellness, outdoor education is compulsory and there is also the learning of skills concept.

How do you engage the fathers of your students to participate actively in their education of their children?

Some children may come from single parent families and we need to be sensitive. At Northlight, we call it a family programme and if their aunts or uncles are the main caregivers, they will also participate.

We teach them the role of the different family members and their roles as children. We show them that today, their parents care for them, but when they grow up it will be their turn to look after their family. Family values are taught under a component on family education. When the students have their own families in the future, they will know how to be responsible parents.

What can fathers do to mentor their own (or even other’s) children, particularly to succeed at academic and vocational pursuits?

The interaction between the father and children is a relationship and it has to be built over time. During the formative years of the child, it is important to consciously build a secure bond and to have the communication channels set up. When children are secure emotionally they are better able to concentrate on their studies. They also know that the parents love for them is unconditional, it is not proportional to the marks they get.

Apart from academics, can fathers also play a part in addressing anti-social behaviour in the student population?

When the children become teens and go through puberty, life relationships may become difficult, but they need to know that their parents are behind them. In this period, fathers are like the pillar of strength and very often when they are involved, the teens feel emotionally secure.


About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.


First published on 29-06-2011

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