Speech by Minister of State for Education, Ms Sun Xueling, at the APB Foundation Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities Awards Presentation Ceremony 2021

Published Date: 07 October 2021 06:00 PM

News Speeches

Mr Kenneth Choo, Trustee, Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation and Managing Director, HEINEKEN Asia Pacific,

Mr Winston Ngan, President, SPD,

Ms Chia Yong Yong, Member of SPD's Board Advisory Panel

APB Foundation Scholars,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Firstly, it is my great privilege to be here today. When I was watching the video earlier, I found it so heartwarming that our scholars' learning and pursuing of their passion are so valued. And never for one moment has their specific ability been questioned or become a source of weakness for them and they are doing so well in their fields. It presents a vision to all of us here – that there is so much we can do for ourselves and for our community if we put our hearts and minds to it. Later, we will be hearing the individual stories of the scholars, and I think that in itself would give us great insight into how they have overcome personal adversities, and how they have learnt lessons and built on it from strength to strength. So, I am looking forward to that.

2. We gather today to recognise the achievements of six students – three that I understand whom we could not meet last year due to the COVID-19 constraints. But we have a double joy, because this year we are able to meet all six of them at the same time. So regardless of the COVID situation, we can always find a silver lining. Congratulations to all six recipients today. You have been extremely outstanding in your achievements, and your family members and all of us in the community are so extremely proud of you. Thank you for giving us a vision of how we can be better versions of ourselves.

Driving Inclusive Education

3. Over the years, we continue to make more effort because we recognise that more needs to be done, and we can only do it in a way where we get adequate input from the ground. We understand where the bottlenecks are, and where we need to constantly improve. We have been taking progressive steps to provide greater support for students with special needs. Since 2019, children with moderate to severe special educational needs or SEN, who were previously exempted from compulsory education, have been included under the Compulsory Education Act. With this, we are making sure that all children have access to education and that our education system can adequately support them. They attend Special Education or SPED schools that offer customised support, for example through a customised curriculum supported by an Individual Education Plan, which identifies a child's interests, strengths and learning goals. I have been doing various Zoom meetings with SPED school leaders, parents and students, and every time I talk to them, I recognise that while we do as much as we can, there is always more that we can do. But I also realised that it goes beyond the work of the Ministry of Education. For instance, many parents are always looking forward and trying to imagine what is next for their children once they graduate from the SPED schools. What kind of career can they look forward to? If they are unable to work, what kind of support is available? And I recognise that every single step we take forward and envision together, our dreams get bigger and it shows me there is more that we need to do together. We need to engage employers, for instance. We also need to work with caregivers. And all that requires a whole-of-society effort. That is one thing that really comes up to me whenever I do these Zoom meetings. It is both a mix of joy and a reality check that there is so much more we can and should do together.

4. Education, as we all know, is an important social leveller, and in Singapore, we do our very best to make sure that our children have a good start in life; that they are given equal and fair opportunity to access a good education through which they could realise their potential and also pursue their aspirations. We start doing this since early childhood, and we have been making a lot of effort to make sure we increase the accessibility, affordability and quality of our preschool education.

5. For children with SEN in mainstream schools, many of our primary and secondary schools are built or upgraded with facilities to make sure there is good enough infrastructure to prevent a bottleneck or impede our children with special needs. We also have allied educators in learning and behavioural support and teachers trained in SEN who provide additional support to these students in mainstream schools. We also set up SEN Support Offices in Institutes of Higher Learning where students with disabilities can turn to for assistance.

6. There are also funding available from MOE and SGEnable that students can, depending on their conditions, tap into to access assistive technology, and support services such as notetaking, sign interpretation and scribe services to help them overcome their challenges. I am glad that through APB's efforts, and through MOE and other stakeholders, we make sure we support the students when they need help financially, for instance, to afford these devices which can help them in their everyday learning.

7. Despite the support that is already in place, we do know that success does not come easy for many students with disabilities. But it is exactly through their successes that we learn nothing is impossible. So, I would like to congratulate the three newly-minted scholars – Kimberly Quek, Rajpal Nirat Singh and Zhu Jia Hui whose stories you will hear later. Together with the other scholars before them such as last year's scholarship recipients Chew Chee Siang, Ng Jun Kang and Elliot Teng, their stories remind us that inclusive education ensures that all students can dream, achieve, and realise their potentials. We must always continue to do better as a society to support everyone.

Partnerships in the Community

8. As I mentioned earlier, advancing inclusion in the education sector is an on-going effort and many have joined us on this journey – parents, educators, students, and social service agencies like SPD, as well as organisations like APB Foundation who have all come forward to support our students with programmes and services.

9. At this juncture, I would like to thank and commend APB Foundation and SPD for your work in empowering youth in their studies. Providing educational support to students with disabilities has been one of SPD's earliest programmes since almost 40 years ago because it believes that a good education would be a means to achieving self-reliance and independence for these students. SPD has worked with several long-term partners and donors to provide educational support to students, and APB Foundation is one of its longest-staying supporters. This programme was started in 2004, and I think over the years you have benefitted so many scholars. You send a very strong message that ours is an inclusive society, and so many can participate in this. So, thank you very much.

10. For the past 17 years, the Foundation has contributed over $2 million towards helping students with disabilities fulfil their potential and enabling them to contribute to the society in various capacities and to the best of their ability.

11. Winston, our emcee today, is one great example. He was an APB Foundation scholarship recipient in 2013. He advocates not just through his own personal success, but that joy and energy from him – that is very important. He is one of SPD's most avid advocates and he participates actively in public education activities, contributes to disability dialogues and now shares his experience with other scholars and youth with disabilities.

Closing

12. Education unlocks doors to new worlds, and I thank APB Foundation and SPD for your efforts in ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, can be empowered by education to achieve their dreams and aspirations. And finally, I know we are all believers in this, but I have to say this over and over again: it is only when we all come together, that we can create bigger and better impact.

13. We have COVID-19 with us now. This is a common adversity that we all have to strive against and become better versions of ourselves, and I am so grateful today that we have this platform where we recognise our young people who have overcome this adversity. I think that is a very important lesson to us all fellow Singaporeans, and I hope that we can all rally together to face challenges and overcome adversity. And with that, my warmest congratulations to all our scholarship recipients today. I wish you every success in the academic year.

14. Thank you.

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