By Carolyn Quek
FOR years, it focused on getting single graduates to meet, mingle and marry. More recently, it turned its attention to polytechnic students.
Now the Government matchmaker is ready to spread the message of love to teenagers in junior college.
The Social Development Unit is seeking bids from those willing to teach the 16-to-19-year-olds what they need to know about dating and finding the right partner in life.
The focus is on helping girls and boys to set goals for long-term love relationships, and shore up their confidence to relate with members of the opposite sex.
Hopefully, it will get them in the right frame of mind to want to eventually marry and have babies.
The winning bidder will have to produce teaching materials and have a pool of at least 30 trainers.
The SDU wants the programme run as a pilot project, with a view to having it integrated into the JC curriculum. The 16 colleges have about 30,000 students.
The 24-year-old matchmaking unit was set up originally to fix the problem of graduates who remained unmarried into their 30s and beyond.
More recently though, it has trained its sights on younger people, helping universities fund social activities to get undergraduates together.
Last year, it started a so-called love elective at Singapore Polytechnic, to impart the finer points of coping with relationships.
The programme proved hugely popular, with places expanding from the initial 90 to 420 next semester.
Ngee Ann Polytechnic caught the love bug last October, and began teaching its students how to manage relationships using several methods, including analysing love songs.
Why the move to junior colleges now? Yesterday, an SDU spokesman would only say: "Extending such courses to junior colleges is part of the effort."
She declined to reveal more.
Tender documents made public yesterday said the SDU wants to "build the foundation for meaningful relationships and marriage" by equipping young people with "relationship skills" and a "pro-family" mindset.
The SDU?s latest effort comes at a time when the shortage of babies here is back in the spotlight, with Government leaders mulling once again over the questions of how to get Singaporeans to marry and have babies earlier.
The problem is that couples are marrying later, and putting off having babies. The current birth rate of 1.29 is much lower than the 2.1 needed for the population to replace itself.
Consultant pyschotherapist Richard Lim, 43, who runs a romance, love and sexuality module for Singapore Polytechnic students, thinks it is a good idea to get teenagers up to speed about relationships early.
"When they are younger and not caught up with their careers, being able to reflect and clarify with experts about what they want in relationships will serve them well in the future," he said.
Former SDU chief Mrs Tan-Huang Shuo Mei agreed, saying: "It's not about encouraging JC students to get hitched, but about encouraging socialisation and developing a healthy view of relationships."