Singapore Indian Development Association

Singapore Infopedia

by Balagopal, Roberta


The Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) is a self-help group for Singapore’s Indian community. It supports education, assists families in need and fosters collaboration with related organisations. Its mission is to “build a well-educated, resilient and confident community of Indians that stands together with other communities in contributing to the progress of multi-racial Singapore”. SINDA, like its counterparts the Council for the Development of Singapore Malay/Muslim Community (Yayasan MENDAKI), the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), and Eurasian Association (EA), provides a range of educational and social services and programmes to assist its target community.1

In September 1990, then Minister for National Development S. Dhanabalan announced the formation of two new groups: SINDA and the Action Committee on Indian Education (ACIE). The aim of these two groups was to investigate and address the issue of the under-achievement of Indian students in relation to the Chinese population.2

The action committee was tasked to improve the academic performance of Indian students and devise a plan which SINDA would then implement. The committee uncovered a number of social issues underlying the poor performance of these students. Its report, entitled “At the Crossroads”, was released in July 1991. It proposed a plan to bring Indian students on par with Chinese students at all educational levels within 20 years. The report also highlighted that other voluntary welfare organisations offering relevant services would have access to a common pool of expertise, learning resources and funds.3

Role of SINDA
The causes of Indian under-performance could be attributed to the social divide between the labouring class and the professional business elite, in addition to other inter-community differences. Poverty and the lack of parental guidance were compounded by social ills such as alcohol abuse and a preoccupation with movies. When SINDA was formed, its main focus initially was to rectify social issues. In December 1991, it was restructured so that it could implement the recommendations of the ACIE report effectively. To achieve its objectives, SINDA was structured into two wings: an education wing targeted at Indian students and their parents, and the Welfare Wing to focus on strengthening the family unit. Both wings would collaborate to raise the academic standards of Indian students as well as to identify and understand the reasons for underachievement.4

Fund raising
Under the CPF/SINDA check-off scheme, Indian Singaporeans would make monthly donations to SINDA. The amount contributed monthly would vary according to their salaries.5 The CPF Act was amended accordingly, enabling SINDA to raise an estimated S$2.5 million annually.6

Education programmes
In early 1992, the SINDA Tutorials for Enhanced Performance (STEP) programme was launched. This nation-wide tuition programme aimed to improve students’ pass rates in core subjects such as English, Maths and Science. Classes in these subjects were conducted by qualified teachers using materials prepared by the Ministry of Education and the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore. The programme focused on primary and secondary school students who were preparing for major examinations.7 Enhanced teaching and learning models were used.8 STEP is the flagship programme of SINDA and continues to reach out to and engage more students.

In May 2018, SINDA announced that more support would be given to address the non-academic needs of pupils. To enhance its STEP programme, a new initiative known as STEP Plus was started. STEP Plus would focus on a child's holistic development and encourage greater parental involvement. Pupils would attend workshops taught by professionals to learn skills related to time management, cyber-wellness, goal-setting and healthy lifestyle habits. Parents would also be engaged through motivational sessions and learn strategies to shape their children's whole-person development.9

SINDA also runs other education programmes such as ITE Aspire and the ITE Leadership Programme(ITELP). The ITELP, which started in 2015, aims to mould Indian ITE students into effective leaders. In 2018, 29 participants joined this programme. ITE Aspire was piloted in 2017 to encourage stronger academic performance and enhance participants’ life skills. This programme is available at all three Institute of Technical Education (ITE) colleges and drew 70 participants in 2018.10 

In 2001, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong urged self-help groups to join hands in running programmes to build a more cohesive and multi-racial society.11

In terms of services, SINDA was already working with other partners. In 1993, it partnered the Eurasian Association for its joint tuition programme.12 Later, SINDA and MENDAKI came together in 1999 under the umbrella organisation, the Joint Social Service Centre (JSSC), to set up a mini family service centre that offered counselling, referral services and family life programmes for people of all races.13 The JSSC, renamed in 2007, continues to coordinate the efforts of SINDA and the other three ethnic self-help groups in promoting racial harmony.14

SINDA’s expanded role
SINDA’s objective of raising the educational levels of Indian students within 20 years has expanded as its role in the community has become more prominent. Its role now encompasses not only education but also social services, training and community bonding. Having organised many programmes in partnership with other Indian and non-Indian organisations, and developed a strong volunteer pool, SINDA has become the “brand name” of Singapore’s Indian community.15

Roberta Balagopal

1. “About SINDA,” SINDA, accessed 18 September 2018.
2. “Excel, Dhana Urges Indians,” New Paper, 3 September 1990, 7; “Action Groups Set Up,” New Paper, 3 September 1990, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Action Committee on Indian Education, Singapore, At the Crossroads: Report of the Action Committee on Indian Education (Singapore: Action Committee on Indian Education, 1991) (Call no. RSING 371.97948105957 AT); “Three Indian MPs Appointed to Sinda’s Board of Trustees,” Straits Times, 14 July 1991, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Audrey Perera, A Place in the Community: SINDA at 20, Looking Back, Moving Forward (Singapore: Singapore Indian Development Association, 2011), 35–41 (Call no. RSING 305.89141105957 PER); Warren Fernandez, “Sinda to Start Tuition Classes Nation-Wide,” Straits Times, 30 December 1991, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Sinda Check-Off Scheme for Contributions Starts Today,” Straits Times, 1 April 1992, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “CPF Act to Allow Deductions for Sinda,” Straits Times, 2 August 1991, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Fernandez, “Sinda to Start Tuition Classes Nation-Wide.”
8. “SINDA Tutorials for Enhanced Performance (STEP),” SINDA, 18 September 2018.
9. Ervin Tan, “Stepping Up on Holistic Development and Parental Involvement in the Indian Community,” Straits Times, 3 May 2018. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
10. Melody Zaccheus, “ITE Students, Alumni Share How Sinda Programmes Have Benefited Them,” Straits Times, 14 September 2018. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
11. David Boey, “PM Goh Urges Self-Help Groups to Join Hands in Running Programmes,” Business Times, 26 February 2001, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Sinda and Eurasian Association Joint Tuition Classes Start.” Straits Times, 2 March 1993, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Zuzanita Zakaria, Sinda, Mendaki Set Op Centre,” Straits Times, 12 June 1999, 55. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Perera, Place in the Community, 87–127.
15. Perera, Place in the Community, 87–127.

The information in this article is valid as at November 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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