MTL Exemption Criteria and Learning of Students with Special Educational Needs

Published Date: 07 November 2016 12:00 AM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Murali Pillai, Bukit Batok


To ask the Acting Minister for Education (Schools) (a) what constitutes "exceptional circumstances" in which Mother Tongue (MT) exemptions are granted to schoolchildren with diagnosed special education needs (SEN); and (b) how does the Ministry assess SEN children who are able to compensate for their learning disabilities currently by relying on memory or rote learning instead of comprehension and assimilation of MT but who will face pronounced difficulties in learning MT in the future.


1. A student with special education needs may be considered for exemption from Mother Tongue Language (MTL) if he or she has certified Special Educational Needs (SEN) that severely affect his or her ability to cope with learning MTL and with overall learning.

2. In the assessment of severe learning disabilities, one key consideration is how well the child responds to instructions given by the teacher. Regardless of the compensatory approach used, the child’s rate of response to instruction is an important indicator of possible learning disabilities. Children with more severe learning disabilities have been observed to show relatively poor rate of response to instructions, and to have persistent difficulties in learning despite receiving appropriate teaching and intervention.

3. The MTL exemption is given to students with special educational needs (SEN) who are not coping well with their overall studies. This is to help reduce their total academic load so that they can cope better with the learning of other subjects. When reviewing applications for MTL exemption from students with special educational needs (SEN), the consideration is not just whether they have diagnosed special needs, but also how they are coping with their overall learning.

4. Students with special educational needs (SEN) who are coping with their overall studies but have difficulty with the Standard MTL curriculum, should consider the option of taking MTL at Foundation level, which is less demanding, instead of seeking MTL exemption. The Foundation MTL curriculum at Primary 5 and 6, and the MTL ‘B’ curriculum at Secondary and Junior College levels are focused on the development of oral and listening skills and have a much reduced demand on writing skills.

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