Speech by Second Minister for Education Ms Indranee Rajah, at the Official Opening of Professor Brawn Café at Pathlight School Campus 1

Published Date: 26 July 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Minister of State for Social and Family Development, Mr Sam Tan

President of Autism Resource Centre and Supervisor of Pathlight School, Ms Denise Phua

Deputy CEO for National Council of Social Service, Ms Tina Hung

Chairman of Pathlight School SMC, Mr Kang Puay Seng

Principal of Pathlight School, Ms Linda Kho

Board members of Autism Resource Centre, Members of Pathlight School Management Committee, Colleagues from MOE, MSF and NCSS

Ladies and Gentlemen

Special Educational Needs and Special Education (SPED) Schools

1. Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here today at this launch of Pathlight School’s Professor Brawn Café, of which I will say more later. First, let me make a few remarks about Special Educational Needs and Special Education (SPED) schools and make one announcement.

2. The special needs landscape is diverse and the needs of students are often unique. Furthermore, our students’ needs change as they grow older and as the world changes too. Hence, our Special Education schools are constantly evolving and the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) (ARC) has played a significant role in transforming Special Education.

3. Globally, the prevalence of autism is growing and Singapore is no exception. In Singapore, as in other developed countries, both mainstream and Special Education schools support children on the autism spectrum depending on the nature and the level of their learning and behavioural needs.

Pathlight School - A Breakthrough

4. A significant milestone took place in the provision for children with Autism when Pathlight School was set up 15 years ago in 2004, to offer the National Curriculum to students with moderate to severe Special Educational Needs and Autism in a customised setting. The very special and carefully designed education that Pathlighters receive helps them overcome the challenges presented by autism and prepares them for an independent adult life.

5. Today, there are many Pathlighters who have achieved much more than they or their parents expected when they first joined the school. A majority have moved on for further studies at institutions of higher learning; others are working in a wide range of industries; they have discovered and developed hobbies and talents in areas such as the arts, technology and writing; and are generally much more active in their families and the community than would have been possible if there had been no school like Pathlight. We are more than happy to support this work, and we will continue to work with Social Service Agencies (SSAs) such as ARC to provide the necessary support so that all our students with SEN can be prepared to lead meaningful lives.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Pathlight Campus 2 Announcement

6. Given the excellent outcomes that Pathlight School has achieved with their students, it gives me great pleasure to announce that our partnership together with ARC will see Pathlight School start its 2nd permanent campus in Jan 2023.

7. The new campus will be located at the former East View Primary School and will be able to cater to 500 primary-level students. These students will be able to benefit from a purpose-built campus with facilities such as an Indoor Sports Hall (ISH) where they can enjoy physical education (PE) lessons, sports and co-curricular activities, computer labs where digital literacy and design skills are taught and a band room for the musical ensemble. Inclusive worksites such as a café could also be featured in this campus to provide vocational training for the older Pathlight students on the vocational training track. But more than the building, the new Pathlight campus will also benefit from the same passion, heart and dedication that we have seen among the teachers, volunteers, and management. So I have no doubt that it will yet be another amazing campus.

8. In deciding where to site SPED schools and campuses one very important consideration that we take into account is whether the location will facilitate interaction with mainstream schools. This is important because such interaction and integration will give our youth a better understanding of special needs and equip them to interact with each other. As the students grow in empathy, our society will grow in inclusivity.

9. For instance, this year, Yio Chu Kang Secondary School involved Pathlight to plan and execute the Secondary One orientation for their new students. This experience has given both Yio Chu Kang Secondary School students and Pathlight students invaluable lessons and memories for the years to come.

10. Likewise, students at Pathlight Campus 2 will have an opportunity to take part in joint activities with their peers from the nearby mainstream schools such as Junyuan Primary School and St. Hilda’s Primary School.

11. Promoting inclusivity is not just about physical buildings. It is really about changing mindsets - so that we do not see those with Special Educational Needs as “other” but simply as people like us who just happen to have different needs. Inclusivity is about understanding what those needs are so that we can communicate and interact with ease and acceptance. This does not happen automatically and is best achieved through doing and experience.

12. Hence, a unique feature of this new permanent campus is that it will have an open community space that will promote interaction between Pathlight students and the general public, allowing for inclusion efforts to blossom from within the community.

13. Having a Pathlight School in the east will make Pathlight’s education accessible to families living there and contribute to the vibrancy of the community in the East Coast.

Life after SPED School

14. While special education is now more widely available, an issue which currently needs much greater attention is what will happen to our students once they graduate from school.

15. This is an area of concern for parents with children who have SEN. Just like any parents, they want to see their children live happily and to have fulfilling lives. Being able to work is part of this.

16. According to research by NCSS, of all the areas in which they wish to see improvement, persons with disabilities hope for greater independence in their lives. Research also shows that the quality of life of persons with disabilities who are in employment is higher, as work provides community, purpose, and income. That is true for anyone but more so for person with an invisible disability like autism as they can be frequently misunderstood or excluded.

17. A person with a special need or a disability is no different from any other person in terms of having hopes, aspirations and feelings. Each one has a unique personality and abilities. Like the rest of us, they too want equal opportunities for employment, leisure and participation in the community. However, many find life very challenging beyond their school gates. Employment opportunities are not easy to come by. Not all employers are open to extend employment opportunities and not all colleagues are accepting.

18. I therefore commend those employers and co-workers who have gone the extra mile to employ persons with disabilities and to make them feel welcome in the workplaces. Companies like Pizza Hut, Pan Pacific Hotel Group, ABR Holdings’ Swensen’s and UOB have embraced SPED graduates by seeking to understand their strengths and interests, customising tasks for them, allowing more time to pick up the skills needed, and celebrating their accomplishments with them. 19. I would encourage others to do likewise. We should move from the current state of affairs to a position where employing someone with disabilities becomes the norm. Whether it be big corporations, small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), social enterprises or sole proprietorships, we hope many more employers will extend internships and employment to students from our SPED schools as well as students with SEN from our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL).

19. I would encourage others to do likewise. We should move from the current state of affairs to a position where employing someone with disabilities becomes the norm. Whether it be big corporations, small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), social enterprises or sole proprietorships, we hope many more employers will extend internships and employment to students from our SPED schools as well as students with SEN from our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL).

20. With a supportive environment and some accommodations, I am confident that employers will discover that these students can be an asset to their workplace. As their job coaches would share, these students are hardworking and will be dedicated workers who bring their strengths, such as their strong attention to detail, their ability to focus and adhere to needed routines, to their work. I understand that Pathlight Vocational Track student Jamie Goh, who just started her internship at this Café is very motivated to come to work and to give her best. With the work exposure, she has grown in her work readiness.

Launch of Pathlight School’s inclusive worksite

21. Even as we encourage more mainstream employment for those with SEN, it is important to ensure that they are ready for work. A significant number are work-capable but not yet work-ready. If we want them to be employed, we must help them make the transition from school to work.

22. In the last 3 years we have stepped up efforts in Special Education to better support students with SEN who are due to make the transition from school to adult life. MOE has been working with the SPED schools in Transition Support. Schools are staffed with Transition Planning Coordinators and Teachers who are trained to work with parents to develop Individual Transition Plans for the students. Working together with SG Enable, schools and their Parent-Social Service Agencies such as ARC’s Employability and Employment Centre (E2C), students and their caregivers acquire skills and experiences to aide their transition to living, learning and working as adults.

23. This is where the School to Work or S2W scheme comes in. S2W is a joint initiative by SG Enable, Employers, SPED schools and MOE. It is important that we all come together to broaden the S2W space so that more students can make the transition from school to work.

24. The Professor Brawn Café here is an excellent example of how to help students make the transition. Here, Pathlighters get to learn transferable work skills such as social communications, task stamina, pace and quality in a safe environment before venturing forth, so that they can be successful in their transition. I am confident that many will be successful in their transition and I would encourage people to come here and give these young people your business. In so doing, you will be helping to get them ready for work while getting food and drink that is prepared with heart and passion.

25. I would like to congratulate all the people who have made this cafe possible – Pathlight School, the parent Social Service Agency Autism Resource Centre (ARC), staff, parents and students. Well done and I look forward to seeing all the students graduate into the workforce armed with confidence and strong skills!

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