MOE FY 2017 Committee of Supply Debate Speech by Minister of State Dr Janil Puthucheary

Published Date: 07 March 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. Madam Chair, MOE will work with parents and the community to build up strong academic fundamentals, healthy living habits, and a resilient mindset. MOE is also committed to helping those in our schools who may need more attention and support to access these opportunities.

Support for special educational needs

2. I assure Ms Denise Phua that MOE is committed to supporting the education of all our students with special educational needs, or SEN. Three-quarters of these students are supported in our mainstream schools, and are able to access the same curriculum and opportunities which equip all our children for the future economy. These students are supported by our Allied Educators, and a core group of teachers in each school trained to support children with special needs.

3. Ms Chia Yong Yong asked about how we train our professionals. There are key service providers delivering structured training programmes for our school personnel. MOE works with NIE to provide both pre- and in-service training in special needs for AEDs and teachers. VWOs are also involved in providing in-service courses and professional advice. Besides training, MOE also facilitates the sharing of evidence-based practice and strategies that work well amongst school personnel.

4. We have always been working closely with our partners to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of MOE-funded SPED schools, and to enable our students to realise their potential for independent living. Mr Perera asked about the challenges faced by schools in engaging bus contractors. We will work with other government agencies to explore how best to encourage more bus operators to serve SPED students.

5. In the post-secondary space, our Post-Secondary Education Institutions have SEN Support Offices, to support students in securing internships and jobs. Our Institutes of Higher Learning also work with SG Enable to provide internship opportunities for students with SEN to build up their professional network and gain practical job-related skills. MOE has also broadened the use of the Post-Secondary Education Account to include approved training courses under SG Enable. This will support persons with disabilities in continuing training beyond their school years.

6. This House would be familiar with the School-to-Work Transition Programme, a collaboration between MOE and SG Enable, for work-capable SPED students. The outcomes have been positive, and we look forward to more students benefitting from this programme.

7. I should highlight that such positive outcomes for our students would not have been possible without the strong support of our community and industry partners. Their open hearts and minds have made a big difference to the lives of our SPED students. I encourage more partners and employers to step forward in enabling opportunities for our students.

8. In response to Mr Dennis Tan’s question, MOE tries to be an inclusive employer, and is working with SG Enable to explore opportunities to recruit persons with disabilities into suitable positions.

9. Ms Chia asked about disability awareness, which is an important element of our Character and Citizenship Education curriculum. It is useful to set aside time for students to discuss such issues face-to-face with their teachers and peers. But we do hope to go beyond disability awareness, to encouraging our students to appreciate different abilities, and to show care towards all. Our schools are also involved in “Values in Action” projects, or in Satellite Partnerships with SPED schools, which allow our students to directly engage and interact with peers of different abilities.

Pre-school

10. Madam, MOE believes in the importance of quality education, starting from the pre-school years. Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Dr Lim Wee Kiak had asked about our MOE Kindergartens, or MKs, which provide quality and affordable pre-school education. The fees are comparable to the Anchor Operators, and eligible children receive assistance from the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). To attract capable educators, MK teachers are remunerated competitively. Children from the MKs have been able to transit well into primary school. The experience from running the 15 MKs has been valuable in establishing good practices, developing teaching and learning resources, and for sharing these with the rest of the pre-school sector.

11. As Minister Ng announced last month, MOE will open another three new MKs in Punggol to serve high demand there. We will continue to assess the progress of our pilot MKs and review our plans, as part of the Government’s overall efforts to strengthen the pre-school sector.

12. Prof Daniel Goh had asked if MOE would implement early detection of dyslexia at the pre-school level. Every year, there are some young children who need more time to develop fluency in oral language skills, as a result of a number of problems with literacy, including, but not limited to, dyslexia. Such children are actively identified. The focus at the pre-school years is then on providing high-quality language and early literacy instruction, without rushing to make a diagnosis for a problem that may be temporary. The literacy support and interventions can still be carried out, and are effective.

13. As I had updated this House last year, MOE has expanded the FLAiR programme, or Focused Language Assistance in Reading, to support more Kindergarten 2 children who have difficulty learning English. Since 2007, FLAiR has benefitted more than 21,000 children.

A supportive school environment

14. Mr Louis Ng had asked how MOE acts against negligent parents who do not ensure that their child attend school. He mentioned the Compulsory Education Act, which holds parents responsible for their children’s attendance at school.

15. Imposing penalties, as provided for under the Act, does not necessarily solve the root problems of non-attendance. MOE takes a holistic approach by working with parents, schools, the Family Service Centres and relevant agencies to counsel and support the family and help all students attend school. Legal enforcement should be the last resort – considered only if all possible intervention and counselling efforts have been exhausted. To date, we have not found it necessary to resort to prosecution.

16. Beyond formal curriculum hours, Student Care Centres or SCCs, as Dr Lim pointed out, play an important role in providing a conducive after-school environment for our students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Over the last five years, we have increased the number of school-based SCCs to 147, supporting more than 18,000 students. The provision has largely kept pace with demand and we remain on track to open SCCs in all primary schools by the end of 2020, and will continue to work with MSF to monitor the demand for SCC places in our schools and in the community.

Fostering resilience

17. Ms Cheng Li Hui had asked about MOE’s involvement in NurtureSG, and our ongoing efforts to build healthy bodies and healthy minds.

18. MOE has been working with our schools, community partners, and families to build resilience in our students. In school, the students themselves, particularly the older students, also play an important role in fostering a caring and supportive environment. Students in distress may confide first to their friends, who can provide them with a listening ear and critical support in a time of need.

19. Some of our schools have already taken the lead to strengthen such peer support networks. We hope to build on this good work, and establish the practice across our school system. Starting from this year, MOE will train a core group of students in each school, to establish a caring environment in every class, to identify signs of distress in their peers, and offer basic social and emotional support.

20. We also hope that for this group of “peer supporters”, such training and experience will serve as a unique development opportunity, to hone their empathetic listening, interpersonal, and communication skills. They can also help raise awareness of mental well-being amongst their schoolmates, and engender a culture of support and resilience in the school, where students are willing to seek help.

21. There is no single solution to the underlying problems behind mental health issues, which are often complex, and in rare cases, may result in a tragic situation of suicide. One of the NurtureSG Task Force’s recommendations, therefore, is to set up an inter-agency workgroup on youth suicide. Dr Lam and I thank Prof Daniel Fung from IMH for agreeing to lead this effort, and I’m confident the workgroup’s findings will be instructive.

Active and healthy schools

22. We also want to encourage our children to develop healthy eating and living habits. By the end of this year, all primary and secondary schools, Junior Colleges and Millennia Institute will have implemented the “Healthy Meals in Schools Programme”, which will allow our students to easily access healthy food options.

23. Professor Daniel Goh suggested to start school later. Our schools determine their start times and do so based on various factors, including traffic conditions, parents’ need to get to work on time after dropping their children off, and the afternoon heat affecting student attention. For better health and learning, the key is the amount and quality of sleep our students get. Lessons on good sleep habits are currently incorporated into our primary school curriculum. The importance of sleep and sleep hygiene will also be taught in the secondary school curriculum, so that students can exercise self-management. We also hope to partner parents in instilling good sleep habits in children.

24. We have also been encouraging our students to lead active lifestyles from a young age. Our formal PE curriculum has been increased to at least two hours a week for all schools. To provide students with more opportunities for “unstructured play”, where they can initiate their own sports and games, our schools will also make available sports equipment and school facilities, for our students to use during their break or after school hours.

Parental and community involvement as a key enabler

25. Madam Chair, in conclusion, I want to emphasise that while our schools will do all we can to ensure that our students are in good physical and psychological health, and have good eating habits, these efforts must not stop once our students walk out of the school gates each day. Otherwise, the efforts will be unsuccessful, and any gains will not be sustained over a child’s lifetime. We need to aim for a healthy, active, and resilient child that becomes a healthy, active, and resilient adult, who take on personal responsibility for his or her own well-being.

26. Madam, finally, our success so far is also the result of the efforts by many community partners and many parents working together in partnership with MOE. We welcome and thank them and look forward to a continued and strengthened partnership with many more.

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