SINGAPORE - When Blangah Rise Primary School organised a learning journey to the SEA Aquarium for a group of parents and their children, parent volunteer A.B. Karim Abbas went along to help.
The trip was for parents whose children were not attending school regularly and Mr Karim made it a point to get to know the parents better to encourage them to send their children to school.
The 58-year-old senior operations assistant at the PSA Marine said the parents were more receptive to advice coming from another parent.
He also accompanies teachers or the school counsellor on some home visits to encourage parents to send their children to school.
He has been a volunteer for 14 years, even though his two daughters have long left school and are now 20 and 22 years old. He also has two sons aged 28 and 32.
Mr Karim is among the parent volunteers who continue giving their time to schools without any intention of securing a place for their children. In fact, many started volunteering at their children's schools only after their children got in.
Aside from helping the school and its pupils, some volunteers like Mr Karim help other parents too.
Most schools have parent groups. Two in three schools had such groups in 2004; today, about 95 per cent of schools have a parent support group or parent teacher association.
An advisory council to the Education Ministry, Compass (Community and Parents in Support of Schools), plans to get more parents to help other parents.
Many groups in schools have already started programmes which delve deeper into a range of issues faced by parents and children.
Mayflower Secondary, for instance, runs a Rainbows programme to help students from single-parent homes.
This year, four parent volunteers have been helping with a peer support group for 28 students from single-parent homes or blended families where parents with children remarry.
The 12-week programme brings students from similar backgrounds together with parent volunteers and teachers. They then split into small groups for discussions on topics ranging from anxieties and worries, to understanding the "loss and grief" process, to adjusting to step-families.
School counsellor Christina John said this creates a safe environment for students to bring up issues. "They know that they are not alone in their situation and the facilitators are there to lend a listening ear and empower them with skills in their challenging situation," she said.
Parent volunteer Leong Lai Fong, 48, a manager, said she wanted to understand how the children felt about their situation. "It was a place for them to let out their feelings. But there is so much more to do and some may need more help beyond those sessions," she said.
Meanwhile, Jiemin Primary in Yishun has a home skills programme for all pupils to help them become more independent while their parents are at work.
Parent volunteers teach the children to sew buttons and make lemonade and sandwiches for themselves. They are also taught simple household chores.
Housewife Punniya Priya, 35, who has two children in the school, has volunteered to help run the programme.
"As a mum, I like my children to have these skills. It is easier to teach other children. When their own parents tell them to do something, they don't listen. When other parents teach them, they listen," she said.
The range of programmes that parents are involved in varies from school to school.
At Loyang Primary, mums are involved in a range of activities. There are reading mums, who are first given training in reading and literacy skills so they can help the pupils in reading, and there are gardening mums, who assist in maintaining gardens and conduct workshops on harvesting.
Broadrick Secondary's parent support group helped to put up a musical last year, which saw parents and children planning, rehearsing and performing together.
This made for more bonding between parents and children, and students got to see a different, theatrical side of their parents.
At Tampines Primary and Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), parents are involved as teachers' aides.
Each Primary 1 class at Tampines Primary has two parent volunteers to help during the first three days of school.
Madam Siti Juliha Arsad, 46, a library officer with three children aged seven to 13, takes several days of leave each year to help with the programme.
"I do it because I enjoy it. Some children are scared, others are over-excited, so we help the teachers manage them for the first few days," she said.
At ACS, all Primary 1 classes have teacher-aides every day for the first five weeks of Term 1, where they also help teachers prepare teaching resources like flashcards.
Parent volunteer Lili Teo, a housewife in her 40s, said: "Watching the Primary 1 boys blossom from their timid selves to confident individuals, up to the point where we are no longer required in the class, is extremely gratifying."
Parents say they, too, gain from the experience.
Housewife Dang Merduwati, 48, who has been volunteering for 10 years at Jiemin Primary and continued doing so even after her children moved on to secondary school, said she has made many friends there.
"We're all from different backgrounds but we come together to help. I feel good that we've made a good impact on the school. We make friends and there's satisfaction when we help the pupils," she said.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.