Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Education at the MOE-NCSS SPED Teacher Award Ceremony on 12 Nov 2010, at 2.45 pm at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel
Members of the SPED School Management Committees
Principals, Teachers, Staff of SPED schools
Ladies and gentlemen
I am very pleased to be here this afternoon at the presentation ceremony of the MOE-NCSS Special Education Teacher Award. This annual award is the highest recognition given by MOE and NCSS to the SPED teachers.
Today, we honour four outstanding SPED teachers who have inspired us with their passion, innovation and dedication to teaching. The recipients, along with the other four finalists, have demonstrated high standards of professionalism in the work they do for their students, schools and communities.
In addition to the SPED Teacher Award, three SPED schools will also be presented with the Innovation Award in recognition of their innovation in engaging and teaching their students. All the six nominees for this award have sought excellence in student learning and development and demonstrated the desire to keep improving.
I wish to congratulate all the award winners – the work you do every day benefits directly children with special needs and their families. It is not easy and I hope the awards encourage you to press on.
School-based Achievement Awards
In March this year, MOE introduced school-based awards to recognize and encourage SPED students for their achievements and progress. An annual grant, from the Edusave Endowment Fund, is given to every SPED school based on the enrolment of its Singapore citizen students for this purpose.
As the profile of SPED students and the type of curriculum offered across schools are very diverse, schools have established their own criteria for the awards. The school-based criteria would select students who best fit the needs of the schools and their students. Each school determines the number and quantum of the awards to be given out, within the guidelines laid out by MOE.
I believe that the school-based achievement awards will give the entire school community much joy as they celebrate the achievements and progress of their students each year.
An example of a student who will be receiving an achievement award this year is eleven-year-old Muhammad Danial from MINDS Towner Gardens School. He has been awarded the Good Progress Award for Behaviour and Academics. He has been an enthusiastic student who is able to settle down quickly and complete most of his worksheets independently. He is participative in class and asks questions to clarify his doubts. Muhammad Danial has acquired enough confidence to participate in oral presentations on stage. He has made substantial progress in applying new knowledge to his daily routine such as the ability to keep to schedule by reading the time and using vocabulary that he has learnt in his daily speech.
Muhammad Danial has become more socially aware and is beginning to show a maturity beyond his age. He is able to empathize with his family’s situation and was prepared to sacrifice class outings to alleviate the cost burden to his family. The school community is encouraged when he takes advantage of opportunities in school to thank his teachers. Muhammad Danial’s school is proud of the progress he has made.
Professional Development of Staff of SPED schools
MOE continues to be strongly committed to building the capacity of schools and their personnel. A school can only be as good as the knowledge and skills of its teachers to deliver a quality curriculum. This year, SPED schools have sent 37 teachers to attend the 1-year Diploma in Special Education course at NIE – which is 20 more than last year. The first batch of 58 teachers have also recently completed the 2-year Specialist Post-graduate Diploma in Special Education and Specialist Diploma in Special Education, offered by NIE for SPED teachers teaching the mainstream curriculum. We strongly encourage SPED school leaders to send your teachers to these diploma courses to equip them with the expertise and knowledge to teach children with special needs.
In addition, 15 Heads of Department and Senior Teachers in SPED schools attended the Management and Leadership on Schools (MLS) programme at NIE. This is twice the number of participants who attended the same programme last year. The participants have found the experience to learn alongside their counterparts from mainstream schools and other SPED schools to be valuable and enriching. In fact, I understand that the MLS graduates this year were involved in organising the SPED Learning Day for all SPED school staff earlier this morning. It is indeed a clear demonstration of the strong sense of commitment to professional development in the fraternity.
Principals and Vice-Principals have been invited to attend the third Special Education Leaders’ Programme (SELP) which will commence early next year. SELP, an 8-week full time course at NIE, covers a range of topics such as organisation development, curriculum leadership, and managing change and innovation. Through the programme, school leaders would be able to acquire knowledge and develop skills on school leadership that would help them to lead their schools to the next level.
Provision of funds for additional teachers
MOE continues to look into ways that SPED schools can be supported in their efforts to promote professional development amongst staff. We have noted that when schools send their teachers for professional development activities during school hours, they are often faced with the challenge to ensure that students’ learning continues to take place effectively even when teachers are away.
To support schools in their efforts to send more teachers for training and professional development, MOE will be providing funds for schools to employ additional teachers with effect from April next year. These funds will enable SPED schools to recruit teachers, above the schools’ current teacher quota. This would ensure that at any one time, when SPED school personnel are away on full time courses such as the Diploma in Special Education or the Management and Leadership courses at NIE, there will be sufficient teachers in schools to keep the classes and programmes going.
With the provision of these additional, above-quota teachers, schools will be in a better position to release their teachers for training or for work attachment. This will encourage teachers to upgrade themselves and promote professional development among staff. Schools will be informed of the details of this scheme in the next few months.
Diploma in Educational Psychology
Besides the teaching staff, MOE is also keen to help the para-professionals develop themselves. As part of the professional team in SPED schools, psychologists have a key role working alongside teachers in providing specialised assessment and intervention for children with special needs. This year, MOE has provided sponsorship for psychologists in SPED schools to obtain the part-time Diploma in Educational Psychology.
This diploma, a tripartite collaboration between the Ministry of Education, National Institute of Education and University College London, will equip psychologists in SPED schools with the necessary skills and competencies in providing quality psycho-educational assessments and support for SPED students. Three of our SPED psychologists have embarked on the diploma programme alongside with the Educational Psychologists serving the mainstream schools since September this year.
Framework for Vocational Education in SPED Schools
Now on vocational education in SPED schools. Starting this year, 2 SPED schools, Metta and Delta Senior Schools, have begun offering vocational training to eligible students from the age of 16 years, leading to national certification in selected trades.
Next year, four more schools – Tanglin School, Grace Orchard School, Katong School, and Metta School – will offer an earlier, more structured phase of vocational preparation for students, starting at the age of 13 years old.
While Metta and Delta Senior Schools’ programmes are more focused on industry training and certification, these four schools will provide students an early start to vocational preparation, by helping them identify their strengths and preferences, in order to make suitable vocational choices. A key focus of this preparatory phase of vocational education is to help students develop the necessary social-emotional competencies and work habits (sometimes known as “soft skills”). Employers have given feedback that for SPED students to be employable, they need adequate skills in communication, self-management, problem-solving, teamwork, and desired work habits such as punctuality, pride in work, and stamina.
A workgroup with representatives from the 4 schools, the Institute of Technical Education, Workforce Development Agency, Singapore National Employers Federation, Enabling Employers Network, and the National Council of Social Service, was formed to oversee the development and implementation of this earlier phase of vocational preparation in the 4 schools. I am pleased to announce that the workgroup has come up with a Framework for Vocational Education to better guide schools in preparing their students for successful transitions to employment. The framework documents the philosophy, vision, objectives, and learning outcomes of vocational education, and includes a series of guides to help schools operationalise a comprehensive and structured programme of vocational education for students. It is my belief that with more comprehensive vocational preparation and education in our schools, more students can attain the vision of being “valued in the workforce, and active in society”.
The SPED sector has witnessed good growth and development. We have made several steps forward in many areas with the support of partners including NCSS, WDA, ITE, SNEF and the community. We need more partners and volunteers to come forward to support our schools by volunteering, sharing their expertise and providing job opportunities. I would like to express my deepest appreciation to our partners and all of you here who are involved in the SPED community in one way or another, whether as a Principal, teacher or para-medical staff, for your tireless effort and dedication.
It is only with the help and support of the whole community that we can achieve our goal of improving the lives of our students. This is a long journey. We have to press on so that new paths can be created where no one has walked before.