Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), at the ITE-SPD Conference 2017, Tay Eng Soon Hall, ITE College Central

Published Date: 20 September 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Ms Chia Yong Yong, President, SPD

Dr Yek Tiew Ming, Principal, ITE College East

Distinguished speakers and guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Introduction

1. In my line of work, too many people talk about the “power lunch”. It’s where you are meant to get a lot of work done, while trying to eat with the right fork, and the right knife. Here, at ITE, I think you’ve got a far better idea of lunch.

2. Ms Edlyn Kwee, one of today’s speakers, has a Lunch Club at ITE College Central’s Student Care Centre. It’s a time for students, with and without special needs, to make friends and pick up social skills in a safe and engaging lunch setting. One small bite for sustenance, one big leap towards inclusivity on campus. Today, about 75% of students with reported special education needs or SEN are supported within mainstream schools.

3. We speak often of education as a social leveller. Because of education, all Singaporeans no matter our backgrounds, are able to develop, realise our potential, excel, and contribute.

4. But it is not just the education system which puts us on the same footing - it is what we choose to do within the system too. Sharing a meal reminds us that we are equal in our humanity, in our basic need for food, friendship and for a meaning and purpose.

5. I am happy to join you today at this year’s ITE-SPD Conference. This annual conference is a valuable platform for educators, employers, caregivers, practitioners, researchers, as well as policymakers to come together to exchange ideas, learn from one another, and build strong networks to support students with special educational needs, or SEN.

6. Today, we are expanding this enabling tool wider and deeper, as MOE’s mandate has been broadened to include pre-school education, and lifelong learning. Our commitment to providing educational opportunities for all is stronger than ever.

7. Nowhere must this commitment be answered more strongly than in students with SEN.

Initiatives to Better Support Our Students

8. We are committed to helping those who need our help in gaining access to learning opportunities. We have so far demonstrated this commitment in three areas.

9. First, the hardware. Today, we have 20 government-funded Special Education (SPED) schools offering customised educational programmes to help our students realise their potential and develop abilities for learning and independent living. These SPED schools, run by Voluntary Welfare Organisations, serve about 5,600 students. These students are supported by specialised facilities, specially trained teachers and Allied Professionals.

10. For example, teachers at AWWA School for students with multiple disabilities use assistive technology such as interactive floor projection and eye tracking systems to enhance students’ motor skills and hand-eye coordination. MOE works closely with the SPED schools to support them, including in teacher training and curriculum development.

11. Schools such as AWWA support students whose needs are more severe. At the same time, there are many other students who are able to learn the same curriculum, at the same pace and in the same environment as typically-abled students. Where possible, and beneficial to these students’ learning, we want to integrate them into the mainstream education system.

12. In this, the second area of improvement is the software in all our mainstream schools. At mainstream Primary and Secondary schools, we have strengthened the support for students with SEN through the provision of specialised manpower, the Allied Educators for Learning and Behavioural Support. These AEDs provide in-class intervention support and withdrawal intervention support, and collaborate with other school personnel to raise awareness of SEN.

13. Beyond these, many such AEDs also help to develop in students, greater awareness and empathy towards their peers with SEN. They involve students as buddies and foster friendships. All schools also have a core group of teachers trained in special needs, who plan instruction and adapt curriculum to meet the learning needs of these students.

14. For Post-Secondary Education Institutions, their doors remain open and accessible to students with SEN too. And I think the doors ought to be opened wider with time. Today, the three ITE colleges cater to over 400 students with SEN, who are suited for such vocational training.

15. MOE also established SEN Support Offices in all publicly-funded PSEIs in 2014. Today, each of our Autonomous Universities, polytechnics, ITE colleges, and Arts Institutions has a one-stop support unit where students can seek assistance for assistive technology devices and other support services. The SEN Support Offices work closely with lecturers, Education and Career Guidance counsellors, and Voluntary Welfare Organisations, and conduct training for faculty and staff to raise awareness of SEN on campus and build an inclusive campus culture.

16. The final area is heartware. This goes beyond the education system, but it is a value that our society must share – of wanting to extend a helping hand, share opportunities, cheering them on, honouring accomplishments, and embracing them as part of our lives.

17. This is an effort that requires champions, catalysts and leaders. Amongst us today, we have inspiring champions and leaders, such as Ms Chia Yong Yong. I had earlier spoken about Edlyn Kwee.

18. We also have the representatives from SG Enable, who are making a big difference in enabling persons with disabilities. Together with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), SG Enable set up the Enabling Village, which is Singapore’s first integrated community space combining retail, lifestyle, training and support services for persons with disabilities.

19. The site of the Enabling Village was formerly the NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute, of which I was the Chairman. At that time, I was told that our lease would not be renewed and we would need to move out for alternate and better use of the land. I was naturally unhappy at that time but seeing the Enabling Village today, I think we deserved to be “booted out”! It was a worthwhile relocation by e2i.

20. Over the years, SG Enable has done commendable work in supporting our students’ transition to work. Many employers, like UOB, Deutsche Bank, NTUC Fairprice and Uniqlo, have responded positively. They have gone on to employ, train, and mentor persons with disabilities. I hope more employers will give persons with disabilities their fair chance to be self-reliant and to shine, and to contribute to their organisations and society.

Doing our Part

21. What about MOE? We are committed to supporting the education of students with SEN, so that they can live their lives with dignity and meaning.

22. Last year, recognising that students with SEN need much stronger support to learn skills and be self-reliant, MOE decided to allow more flexibility in the usage of the Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA) for students with SEN. I announced the expansion of the usage of PSEA to cover training courses supported by SG Enable and other sheltered workshops approved by MSF.

23. I am pleased to update that more than 50 training courses can now be funded by the PSEA. These courses are in many different domains including music, IT and hospitality. Students with SEN may now tap into their PSEA to attend SPD’s training courses on the use of digital tools like tablet and Photoshop, and effective communication.

24. We can do more. In 2014, MOE established the SEN Fund for polytechnic and ITE students with physical and sensory impairment. Regardless of family income, all Singapore Citizen students with physical impairment are provided up to $5,000 to purchase assistive technology devices for their education. Those who have hearing or visual impairment are provided up to $25,000 to purchase assistive technology devices and support services like note-taking and signing interpretation.

25. There are a handful of severe cases where the support required is far more acute. In view of these, MOE has decided to create a High-Needs Category under the SEN Fund, and provide greater support for these students. They will receive up to $70,000 to purchase assistive technology devices and support services to access education in the polytechnics and ITE. These students can now be assured of adequate support for the entire course of their study.

Conclusion

26. We have, over the years in Singapore, built a structure to provide opportunities for all. Yet a structure is dead unless we – all of us – parents, policy-makers, students and VWOs – breathe life into it. This is a structure that requires all of us to contribute in different ways - and I thank all of you for your unwavering support and steadfast commitment over the years. The power of lunch is not that we eat, or even that we sit at the same table. The power lies in our collective desire to want to spend time with each other, to see in each other both our promise and our perils, and help each other along the best we can. Thank you.

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