SINGAPORE: Open University aids migrant workers

An imaginative and heartening move by Singapore's Open University is opening educational windows of opportunity for some of the country's migrant labour force. In collaboration with the Indonesian Embassy, the OU is offering pre-degree tuition and four bachelor degree courses to Indonesian domestic workers - a female cohort that often makes the headlines in the city-state for all the wrong reasons.

Recent years have seen a number of high profile cases of serious abuse of Indonesian servants in Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia as well as the Gulf countries. So frequent were the deaths of Indonesian maids falling from windows of high-rise apartment blocks in Singapore while carrying out domestic duties that the English-language daily The Jakarta Post headlined a report on the issue 'Singapore's killing fields'.

Many of the young Indonesian women arrive in Singapore with little or no English and almost none have any Chinese language proficiency. The OU offers affordable English-language tuition to help the women cross that gap, English being more or less a lingua franca on the island.

The OU also offers English pre-degree computer training, a field likely to be entirely new for young women drawn from small provincial towns or rural communities, as well as four degrees covering accounting, business administration and government studies.

Students take the courses on campus where they mix freely with Singaporean students and others. Already some graduates have reported that the way has been opened to them for better and more fulfilling employment back home. One ex-servant now holds down a job on a local newspaper.

A number of Indonesian women workers wanting to take up the courses have been held back by employers not allowing them to fit education with their work schedules.

The OU and the Indonesian Embassy, however, are buoyed by the success of the scheme and have announced plans to expand it to Hong Kong and the Gulf, where there are large Indonesian female labour forces.