ITE dropout regains confidence to return to school through MSF’s mentorship programme

Beyond mentorship, youths who face issues or require social support are also connected to community resources under the Career Advice and Mentoring Programme.

Amanda Tan

Published: 17 April 2023, 4:03 PM

Just months after enrolling into her new school, Maia Simone Francis developed a profound aversion to attending classes.

Enrolling into Nitec’s Infocomm Technology in January 2021 was a last resort for Maia as she had been rejected from her first seven choices of courses. It was poles apart from her first two choices, Digital Animation and Visual Communication. 

Though dejected, she remained optimistic that she would be able to cope. She had previous experience in her primary school’s Infocomm Club and assumed it would be similar. However, it was nothing but “an emotional whiplash” and she withdrew from school by June of that same year.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for a number of youths, aged 16 to 25, who leave ITE prematurely. Reasons cited include lack of motivation and personal or family issues, according to social service agency Trybe.

“Honestly, I felt very disheartened the whole course. I was very lost and my teachers noticed that. They were very aware that this was my (last choice) and as much as they attempted to teach me, they really knew that this wasn’t for me,” shared Maia.

She added that her then-form teacher checked in with her multiple times. Her parents also tried to push her but relented when they realised how hard a time she was having in school. She also had an unsuccessful attempt to transfer to the Digital Animation course. 

“I wouldn’t say that I was a very lazy kid but I would say that if it’s a subject that I just really didn’t like, I would tend not to do it. It made me procrastinate a lot,” she shared, adding that she has always held an interest in the arts since she was nine years old. 

“It’s something I have always been passionate about but I always cut myself short because I had other people who told me what they thought was best for me. But I didn’t think to myself about (what I wanted).”

Upon dropping out she found a part-time job at Burger King, which she had for six months. It was only when her mother chanced upon a Facebook post by Trybe, promoting the Career Advice and Mentoring Programme (CAMP), did things begin to look up for Maia.

CAMP is an initiative launched by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in January 2022 that seeks to assist premature ITE leavers like Maia realise their potential through mentorship opportunities. The ITE leavers would be matched with a mentor, who will guide them for a span of at least six months.

Her mother signed up for the programme on Maia’s behalf, in hopes that she would gain more self-confidence – something Maia is grateful for, admitting that she really needed that extra boost to turn her life around.

Through CAMP, Maia was matched with her mentor, Samantha Wong Hui-Shan. The 36-year-old Public Relations consultant offered Maia guidance over a span of a year.


Maia (left) and her mentor, Samantha (right), at one of the mentoring sessions under the CAMP. PHOTO CREDIT: MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT


Samantha had found out about CAMP through the news

“I felt that it was a very good initiative so I just clicked to sign up on the spot,” said Samantha. 

Her resolution to be part of CAMP stemmed from her prior experience as a secondary school teacher of five years, teaching humanities subjects Social Studies, Literature and History.

Back then, she mostly took on graduating classes. She recounted her students often asking her about life outside of school, like what kind of occupations to look into and what workplaces are like. That was when she realised she could only answer from a singular perspective as teaching was her sole career experience then.

“I felt like in order to be better equipped to help people in these kinds of conversations, I should try something aside from teaching which was my first proper job.”

After jumping from education to business, before finally landing in communications, the mentoring opportunity seemed apt for her to come full circle and speak to students like she used to.


Their very first meeting was with the team from Trybe. Samantha recalls Maia as very shy then. PHOTO CREDIT: MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT


To qualify as a mentor, Samantha had to undergo three sessions of compulsory mentor training organised by MSF. There, mentors were briefed on how to communicate with their assigned mentees, to familiarise themselves with the youth lingo and how to deal with difficult situations that arise.

Throughout her 12-month journey as a mentor, Samantha also attended four other optional sessions which were held once a month on top of the mandatory preparatory courses,

Subsequently, she was introduced to Maia, her first mentee.

Samanthas first one-on-one meeting with Maia remains a fond memory, as she describes Maia to be of a similar character to her younger sister.

They met at Choa Chu Kang Library’s Children’s Section, where Maia opened up to her about her interests and her short and long-term goals which were to re-enrol in ITE and pursue a career in the animation industry. 

“It really sticks in my mind because I, from that moment, had a much better idea of how to help Maia,” shared Samantha.

But not everything was smooth sailing from the get-go. 

“I was very aware – and Maia knows as well – I am not an artist. I can’t teach her how to draw better. That is her skillset, not mine. Mine was very much to help keep her on the right path, towards where she wanted to be,” offered Samantha. 

During their second and third meetings, Samantha’s approach was to instruct Maia on her deliverables. However, the duo soon realised such a tactic wasn’t working and that proper steps needed to be fleshed out.

“It became a bit teacher-like. It was like next week you need to buy this then the week after you need to do this. That was a framework we needed to set together and Maia then had to take this on and do it herself.”

Throughout the mentorship, while Samantha never really felt the large generational difference between her and Maia, challenges arose from forgetting what life was like as a student. She had to constantly remind herself to “keep perspective” and not be quick to assume what Maia was experiencing. 

“The gap was more of me trying to remember what it’s like going through the different life changes that she’s going through.

“…when you hear something from (the mentee), you (should) just listen first and try to digest it and with that perspective, you’ll be able to deal with it without having too big of a problem.”

With the close guidance offered by her mentor, Maia managed to get accepted into Nitec in Visual Communication.

Maia recalls the application process as one that was smooth and relatively easy, crediting it to the fact that she entered the interview well-prepared.

“I kept rehearsing and when it came to the interview itself, they saw my portfolio, asked me two questions and that was kind of it,” said Maia.

Immensely proud of Maia’s progress, Samatha shared: “She always had the skill. She’s just someone who has natural creative ability so when she reaches the next milestone, I want her to know that this is an achievement she’s gotten on her own accord and she can continue to do it and she must continue to believe in herself.”


In her portfolio, she included 31 illustrations – an ambitious target she set for herself despite there being no minimum. IMAGE CREDIT: MAIA SIMONE FRANCIS


From when she first joined CAMP, Maia has since come a long way. Not only does she feel more confident in her abilities, she has also grown to be a more self-directed learner. 

“I feel a lot more self-aligned. I definitely feel like I’m heading towards not the right direction, but the direction I want to take,” said Maia.

Samantha has also noted not just the change in confidence but also Maia’s mood – and that’s the best change she’s seen thus far.

“…I don’t remember a time when I could tell my parents that I’m happy to go to school. It’s not something I could say confidently. But the last time I met Maia she said everyday she’s happy in school. That’s really cool.”

While the 12-months mentorship programme has come to a close, Samantha hopes that this won’t be the end of their mentor-mentee relationship. She wishes to continue journeying with Maia, should she be open to it.

“If 10 months down the road, she’s suddenly stressed (or) she’s not sure (on how to go about a task), I’d be really happy to continue talking to her and tell her tips here and there that can help.”


The pilot programme is on track to supporting 100 youths over two years. PHOTO CREDIT: MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT


Youths or stakeholders working with youths who have left ITE prematurely can request for more information or sign up at the CAMP website.

MSF has recruited 40 mentors while 44 mentees have enrolled in CAMP. To date, 28 youths have been matched, with five having completed their mentorship, three returning to school to pursue new courses of interest, and two who have found employment in their industries of choice.

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