Speech by Ng Chee Meng, Minister for Education (Schools) at SPED Conference 2016

Published Date: 04 November 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. I am delighted to join you for SPED Conference and to see many familiar faces. I addressed the SPED community last year and have been looking forward to engaging you once again at this year’s conference.

Affirmation of the VWOs’ Role in the Development of SPED

2. In the last year, through my school visits, I have been impressed by how much our SPED schools have progressed over the years.

3. I learnt that most, if not all our SPED schools, were set up years ago by a core group of determined volunteers to meet the needs of our children who require special education. Through your efforts, SPED schools have grown steadily over the years in delivering holistic, quality education to help our students lead meaningful lives and be integrated into society.

4. The progress in Special Education is possible because of our VWOs’ pioneering spirit in setting up SPED schools and your unwavering dedication and commitment to our students. The improving quality in our SPED schools come down to our and constant quest for excellence.

5. Over the years, you have gained deep knowledge and expertise in the disability profiles of students you serve. Beyond that, you have also developed customised curricula and created engaging learning environments that support the needs of our students, and enable them to realise their potential.

6. MOE recognises your commitment and expertise in Special Education. We have worked closely with you, and will continue to work closely with you, to provide funding and infrastructure, support curriculum development and build teacher capacity to achieve better educational and life outcomes for our SPED students. This unique partnership has worked well. Moving forward, we will continue to strengthen our partnership.

7. The needs of children with special needs are varied and complex. MOE aims to provide a continuum of support for them in both mainstream and SPED schools.

8. Today, 75% of children with special needs are supported in our mainstream schools. They are supported through specialised manpower, school-based support services and assistive learning devices. MOE also provides varied professional development opportunities for teachers to acquire specialised knowledge and skills in the area of special needs.

9. For our students with moderate to severe special needs who are able to benefit from educational opportunities, our assessment is that they are better catered for in SPED schools. In these schools, specially-trained teachers, dedicated resources and customised learning environments are provided to meet the needs of these students. Over the years, MOE has worked closely with VWOs and SPED schools to diversify educational pathways, enhance both curriculum, and vocational education. We have also enhanced teacher capacity in teaching and learning. All these have come together to enable each student to optimise his potential and achieve better outcomes.

10. To recognise students’ achievements and affirm their triumph over adversity, I am glad that the Lee Kuan Yew Exemplary Student Award will be given out next year. This new national award honours students in SPED schools who motivate and inspire their peers as role models. I urge all SPED schools to nominate your deserving students for the award.

Including Children with Special Needs within the CE Framework

11. With the progress made in Special Education, children with moderate to severe special needs are now able to access better-quality education. VWOs and key stakeholders have observed significant improvements in SPED in the areas of curriculum, teaching and learning; teachers’ professional development; and infrastructure. Parents, too, have expressed greater confidence in SPED schools to provide quality education for their children and prepare their children to participate in society. I am heartened to hear that nearly all children with special needs are receiving formal primary education in government-funded schools, either mainstream or SPED schools.

12. It is therefore timely, to include our children with special educational needs within the framework established by the Compulsory Education Act. This is a reaffirmation that every child matters, regardless of his or her learning challenges.

13. MOE has considered this very carefully for some time, even as we work with our community partners to ensure that our education landscape is able to support children with diverse special needs.

14. As a testament to the SPED sector’s considerable progress, our children with moderate to severe special needs will be able to fulfil their compulsory education obligations in specified VWO-run SPED schools, similar to their peers who regularly attend our mainstream school system.

15. We plan for this important initiative to start with the Primary One registration exercise in 2018, for the cohort starting school the following year. This is an important milestone in Singapore’s continuing drive towards national inclusiveness.

16. Of course, even as my team and I work towards a smooth implementation, we are mindful of the challenges, given the sheer diversity and complexity of the special needs landscape. For instance, there will continue to be a small group of children with serious conditions who will not be able to attend school, or whose parents may still prefer to teach their children at home. We will need to work out exemption processes for this group to ensure their interests and welfare are safeguarded. But the overall policy intent is clear, as is our determination to facilitate what will be in the best interests of our children.

17. In doing so, we will consult closely with key stakeholders. Hence, MOE will set up an Advisory Panel to carefully study the implementation of compulsory education for our children with special needs. The Panel will comprise experienced SPED leaders, educators and medical professionals, and will engage schools, educators, parents, VWOs and others with a stake in educating children with special needs.

18. I have asked my MOE colleague, Dr Janil Puthucheary, to lead this Panel. Dr Janil is a familiar face to many of you, and he has devoted much time in engaging SPED schools and VWOs to better understand the issues you face. I trust that you will lend him your support and offer him your valued feedback and suggestions. Your contributions will go a long way to ensuring that we implement compulsory education in a way that works for children with special needs. We will share more details on the Panel at a later date, and I look forward to hearing their views and recommendations.

19. Beyond the Panel’s efforts, MOE remains committed to working closely with the SPED sector to achieve quality outcomes for the SPED community.

Transition Planning

20. A key purpose of Education is to prepare our students for life beyond school. But hearing from many school leaders and teachers, we know that the transition to post-school life can be daunting for our special needs students. As such, we want to focus more efforts in easing this critical transition to post-school. To this end, my colleagues at the Special Education Branch have worked with schools to develop a comprehensive guide to put in place systems and processes for effective Transition Planning for every student.

21. Transition Planning does not happen by chance. It requires early planning and careful preparation, deep knowledge of each student’s strengths and aspirations, and close partnerships with families and service providers. Given its importance, I urge all of you to make Transition Planning an integral part of your school’s DNA. To this end, MOE is committed to working closely with you over the next few years to build schools’ capacity in Transition Planning.

School-to-Work Transition Programme

22. One key transition for our students is from school to work. In 2014, we embarked on a two-year collaboration with the Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable to prototype the School-to-Work or S2W Transition Programme in five SPED schools. Through this collaboration, multiple training and employment pathways have been created. This has benefitted students with more complex needs.

23. I am pleased to hear that the prototyping has been successful and yielded very positive outcomes. I am told that the first batch of 30 students have completed the programme, with 80% meaningfully employed, and most sustaining employment beyond six months. Participants have expressed satisfaction in being able to earn an income and contribute to their families. Parents have observed higher levels of confidence and independence in their children and employers have reported a more inclusive culture as their staff developed more positive attitudes towards persons with special needs.

24. Wan Shuen, is one student who benefited from the S2W Transition programme. After graduating from MINDS Woodlands Gardens School, she completed a nine-month internship at the National University Hospital with support from job coaches, co-workers and her family. She is now employed by NUH as a Health Attendant at the Linen Department. We hope to see more of these success stories.

Building Teachers’ Professionalism

25. Teachers are key to helping students like Wan Shuen realise their potential. When I visited schools like Metta and Eden, the teachers there shared with me their efforts to make the curriculum more student-centric and outcome-focused. I am also heartened to hear that many of you are working with my Special Education Branch colleagues to apply effective instructional frameworks, such as Universal Design for Learning, to customise your teaching approaches.

Celebrating the Achievements of SPED Teachers

26. As SPED educators, you are key to our efforts to improve the quality of Special Education. I would like to honour the stellar work of SPED teachers.

27. I wish to offer my heartiest congratulations to the winners of the MOE-NCSS Outstanding SPED Teacher Award: Wan Ting, Noriytah, and Esther – you embody professional excellence, and, most importantly, the love and care for the children and helping them develop a spirit of lifelong learning as well as giving them the confidence that they can make a difference and progress and be integrated into society.

28. I also congratulate the recipients of the MOE Masters Scholarship in Special Education, as well as the schools receiving the MOE-NCSS Innovation Award. Well done to all our teachers and schools!

29. I would also like to extend my thanks to the Chairman of the selection panel for OSTA, Dr Intan Azura Binte Mokhtar, and panel members for both the OSTA and IA awards for their time and effort in selecting the winners.

Conclusion

30. MOE remains committed to enhancing support for children with special needs. We cannot do this alone. Today’s announcement to include our children with special needs under the compulsory education framework is a critical chapter in this journey. How SPED unfolds in the coming years will depend on our continued partnership between MOE, the VWOs, SPED schools and the community. Together, we shall chart the future of SPED, always ensuring that our children – whatever their background, whatever their current circumstances, whatever their educational challenges, can and will be an integral part of who we are and what we can achieve as a society and as a country.

31. In conclusion, I would like to thank all of you who have made today’s conference possible. I would also like to especially thank VWO leaders, members of the School Management Committees, principals and all school staff for taking time to join us today, and for your dedication and commitment to Special Education.

32. I wish all of you an enriching and meaningful conference today. Thank you.

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