Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Education, at an Extra•Ordinary Celebration Concert

Published Date: 08 November 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. Good afternoon everyone. It is a great pleasure and privilege to be here with you today at this special event.

2. My heartiest congratulations to our students, parents, educators, and organisers Extraordinary People, for journeying together to make today possible. You have come together with a clear sense of purpose, embracing each other's strengths and differences, to create beautiful outcomes. All of you are "extraordinary", because you inspire all of us to be an inclusive community.

3. Before we enjoy the performances, please allow me to share some recent and upcoming efforts by the Government to support those of us with special needs.

Government's Approach to Supporting Children with Special Needs

4. We aspire to be an inclusive society, where everyone is valued and can thrive in a supportive environment. It is our strong belief that all our children must be given the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, in quality educational settings that best meet their needs.

5. That is why we have enhanced and diversified the education landscape over the years, to meet the different needs of our young Singaporeans. Today, over 80% of our children with special educational needs (SEN) learn in mainstream schools. This suits them well, because, despite learning needs, sensory or physical challenges, they have the cognitive ability to benefit from the national curriculum and the adaptive skills to enjoy learning in larger-group settings. In school, they are supported by teachers trained in special needs, Allied Educators specialised in Learning and Behavioural Support, and Case Management Teams involving school leaders. Together with parents, these staff form a strong network of support for our children's development.

6. For children with higher support needs, our 19 Government-funded Special Education (SPED) schools provide more customised learning environments, dedicated resources, and specialised manpower.

7. Thanks to the concerted efforts by the Social Service Agencies, the National Council of Social Services and MOE, students in our SPED schools are better equipped for work and for independent living. Over the last five years, total funding for our SPED schools has risen substantially, by over 40%.

8. We have worked closely with the schools and their Social Service Agencies to enhance and enrich their curriculum. Similar to mainstream schools, we have placed a high priority on the professional development of our teachers to ensure that they are well-equipped to support our children's holistic development.

9. We have come a long way. The sector has grown over the years with our continuing efforts to build up our expertise and capabilities, and pump in the resources needed to build schools, facilities and programmes. Undergirding all these efforts is our Many Helping Hands approach. Our progress is possible only because all of us – MOE, the National Council of Social Services, our Social Service Agencies, schools, parents and caregivers – work hand in hand to provide a strong support system for all our students.

10. Even as we celebrate our progress, we must never stop trying to improve our system, so that our children can learn in educational settings that cater to their needs, and grow up in a society where everyone can thrive.

11. Hence, in addition to meeting our children's educational needs, it is also crucial to create an inclusive system, where all are seen as integral members of our society.

12. Many have spoken of how the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable. It also reflects who we are as individuals, whether we have the empathy and maturity to see every person for who they are, and not through the lens only of what they can or cannot do.

13. These may sound like lofty ideals, but if we look around us, our children are already showing the way with their open and big hearts, coming together like today to create wonderful outcomes.

14. Beyond concerts like this one, SPED and mainstream schools partner one another on a day-to-day basis to promote inclusivity and enable meaningful interaction. This comes in the form of shared activities like CCAs, learning journeys, and camps, and in some instances, lessons too.

15. You can be assured MOE will keep supporting and advocating for such meaningful partnerships because they benefit all students. All students – with or without special needs – develop empathy, good inter-personal skills and confidence. Together, they learn to become socially adaptable and caring individuals.

16. We must continue to strive for quality teaching and learning to meet the educational needs of all our children, while maximising the opportunities for inclusion.

17. As such, this afternoon, it gives me great pleasure to share a few new and upcoming developments in the education space for children with SEN.

Promoting Inclusivity

18. First, to ensure that our mainstream schools remain inclusive, safe and accommodating spaces for our children with SEN, we have introduced two intervention programmes, with a focus on peer support.

19. Friends are an important source of support as our children go through new experiences. In our primary and secondary schools, we have introduced a customised intervention programme called "Circle of Friends". This is for students who experience social, emotional or behavioural challenges. Through this programme, both the students with SEN and their friends meet their form teacher or the Allied Educator in Learning and Behavioural Support weekly to identify difficulties they wish to address and together devise strategies to help the student achieve progress in his or her area of difficulty.

20. In our secondary schools, we have introduced another intervention programme called "Facing Your Fears" to support students with SEN in coping with emerging anxieties. Being a teenager can be a challenging time, and even more so for those with SEN. The "Facing Your Fears" programme brings students with SEN together to become more aware of their emerging fears, and to learn self-management strategies. These students offer much support to each other, including encouraging one another to apply the self-management techniques and coping strategies, even beyond the sessions.

21. These intervention programmes were conceptualised from evidence-based research and our evaluation studies. Positive feedback from schools, students and parents on the programmes confirmed that participants have grown in empathy, skillfulness and resilience.

22. Over the next few years, the "Circle of Friends" and "Facing Your Fears" programmes will become available in all schools as we train our personnel to run these intervention programmes, and as parents and students step forward to give their support and participate.

Improving Affordability

23. Second, working with our SPED schools, we will improve the affordability of SPED to alleviate the financial burden on families with children with SEN.

24. Our SPED schools have done a wonderful job in bringing quality SPED to students with SEN. Many have been trailblazers and pathfinders. With their participation and collaboration, we have over the years transformed SPED.

25. As we know, SPED can be costly due to the higher needs and resources. While SPED financial assistance is available to the lower income, we recognise that for families of children with SEN, SPED fees add to the other costs they already have to bear.

26. Over the years, government funding for SPED schools has been increasing. We will continue to do more to support the sector. With this increased support from the government, SPED schools have over the years been able to achieve stable funding, and to review their fee positions.

27. I am therefore very pleased to announce that from January next year, six SPED schools will be lowering their fees by at least 25% for Singapore Citizens. This is a significant move in making SPED more affordable for families with children with SEN.

28. I would like to commend and thank these schools for making this move, and for being unstinting in their efforts to achieve the best outcomes for our children all these years. This is a clear display of our schools' commitment to accessible and affordable education for children with SEN.

Enhancing Accessibility

29. Third, we will enhance the accessibility of SPED schools to address the growing demand for SPED school places for students with moderate-to-severe SEN who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

30. Over the next few years, we will set up three new SPED schools. One of these schools will serve students with moderate-to-severe SEN who have both ASD and Intellectual Disability, while the other two other schools will serve students with moderate SEN who have ASD and can access the National Curriculum.

31. I am happy to share that MOE will be working with Metta Welfare Association to run the new SPED school for students with both ASD and ID. This school, to be located in the East, will be ready in 2024 and will serve students from 7 to 18 years old. In the interim, from 2021, these students will have their lessons at the current Metta School campus in Simei. I wish Metta and all their students the very best.

32. We will also be opening two new SPED schools for students with moderate SEN who have ASD and can access the National Curriculum. One of them will be a new Pathlight Campus that will be run by the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) (ARC). This will be Pathlight's third campus, the first being in Ang Mo Kio and the second, as I have recently announced to be opened in Tampines soon. ARC pioneered the support for this profile of students, and they have been a close and strong partner of MOE. ARC's passion, commitment and expertise continue to contribute greatly to students with ASD and their families.

33. Many other parties have come forward to MOE to contribute to this sector. For the other new school, MOE will conduct a limited invitation for proposals in the same way as what was done for the ASD-ID school which Metta will set up. More details on this will be released in due course, but allow me to be the first to thank all of you who have expressed an interest for your enthusiasm and desire to serve our students.

34. These new schools will help to improve the accessibility of SPED and ensure that all children with moderate-to-severe SEN will be able to receive a quality education in our government-funded SPED schools.

Conclusion

35. To conclude, we have been making significant moves across all our schools to better provide for our children with SEN. In mainstream schools, we have introduced peer support intervention programmes to promote inclusivity and understanding, and in our SPED schools, we will be lowering fees and building more schools to enhance affordability and accessibility.

36. This is an on-going piece of work. We will continue to strive to do better for our children with SEN and their families.

37. All these would not have been possible if not for the dedication and close partnership with our stakeholders. I would like to commend parents, caregivers and everyone working in our schools and Social Service Agencies for putting so much heart into realising the potential of our children with SEN. Thank you for working together to build an inclusive, caring and compassionate society for all our children.

38. Just like the beautiful performances that we are about to enjoy this afternoon, may Singapore always be a place where relationships grow and all people can thrive. Thank you.

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