March 05, 2018
MOE FY2018 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Senior Minister of State for Education, Dr Janil Puthucheary
1. Sir, our education system is evolving, to prepare each of our students for the future. MOE has to be prepared to do different things, and to do things differently.
SUPPORT FOR SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS
2. I thank Ms Denise Phua and Ms Cheng Li Hui for their encouragement as we continue with our efforts to support our students with special educational needs, or SEN.
3. Some of this expertise did not traditionally reside with MOE. Decades ago, we tried something different – we partnered with Voluntary Welfare Organisations who had deep expertise in SEN support.
4.As both sides learnt from each other, these partnerships evolved to strengthen support for our students. One good example of this is our relationship with AWWA, with whom we work on different service models. The partnership extends to mainstream schools, where AWWA provides training and consultation services to our educators, supporting students with physical and visual impairments.
5. Today, 80% of our students with SEN are enrolled in mainstream schools; I would say that again to make sure that we are all clear, 80% of our students with SEN are enrolled in mainstream schools. They are supported not just by allied educators, but also by educational psychologists, and suitable intervention programmes including those provided by organisations such as AWWA
6.As our students move on to the post-secondary space, they are supported by SEN Support Offices in each of our Institutes of Higher Learning, or IHLs. To prepare for entry into the workforce, students with SEN can participate in SG Enable’s IHL Internship Programme, as well as the RISE mentoring scheme.
7. We are looking ahead, and constantly seeking ways to better support our students to realise their potential. There are different ways to do this, including the suggestion of an Academy for those with special needs and all who support them. For now, MOE takes a targeted approach. We are enhancing our professional development for our staff, and are also looking at how to better support students with SEN at key transition points - like when they enter school.
8. Strong partnership between MOE and the community has also enabled the sector to make significant improvements. Over the past year, MOE has worked with our government-funded SPED schools to ensure the smooth implementation of compulsory education for children with moderate-to-severe special needs. We are confident that students who can benefit from such specialised support will receive quality education in these schools.
9. Yet, as Ms Phua has pointed out, our efforts must go beyond legislation. MOE and our partners must continue to look for ways to do better, to deliver affordable, quality specialised education for our students.
10. Grace Orchard School, an early participant of the School-to-Work Transition programme, S2W, did several new things to ensure that their students benefitted from the opportunity. It reached out to the private sector for job opportunities, they updated their curriculum, so that the students could start their job training in their last years within the school. The S2W programme has seen positive outcomes, and we are working with MSF and SG Enable to scale it up.
11. We are also looking into lifelong learning opportunities for those with special needs. Our SkillsFuture Credit course directory is continually updated with new courses. We also have a SkillsFuture Study Award for Persons with Disabilities to recognise those who demonstrate resilience and perseverance in pursuing lifelong learning.
12. If I can address a few of the specific queries that Ms Cheng Li Hui and Ms Denise Phua brought up, the Development Support Programme (DSP), together with the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children, is organised by MSF and I need to defer to them to talk about those interventions. But there are 3 MOE Kindergartens that offer the DSP programme and we will study how we can do that better.
13. To Ms Phua’s question, all teachers since 2005 have been equipped with SEN training during the pre-service training at NIE. Each school also has a group of teachers who have undergone certificate-level training in special needs in NIE; these are known as teachers trained in special needs. On top of that, there is at least one Allied Educator for Learning and Behavioural Support [AED (LBS)], looking at the behavioural needs, rather than just the educational needs in every primary school. We are recruiting more of these AEDs (LBS) and our target is to ensure that all primary schools will have a baseline provision of 2 and 95% of secondary schools to be given a baseline provision of at least 1 AED (LBS).
OUR APPROACH TO NATIONAL EDUCATION
14. Mr Ang Wei Neng asked about National Education, or NE. There are people who feel that the storyline is worn and tired, or, as Mr Ang expressed it, that NE is propaganda.
15. Sir, MOE recognises that we have to be open to doing NE differently. We must empower our students to discover what being Singaporean means to them personally – not because the syllabus or textbook says so, but because they themselves know so through a process of discovery and the creation of a strong sense of their own identity.
16. This was the basis for the work of the NE Review Committee, where my MOE colleagues and I, together with colleagues from community organisations and the private sector, had the chance to hear from over 2,000 students and educators. Our recommendations centre on nurturing a sense of belonging to our country and community; a sense of Singapore’s realities and challenges; and a sense of shared hope and aspirations as a nation.
17. Our efforts to refresh and improve NE will then be driven by three groups of interventions.
18. First, just as learning must evolve to remain relevant, NE discussions must take on contemporary issues, as well as the perspectives of different Singaporeans – including our students themselves. This will enable our students’ shared appreciation for the ever-evolving Singapore story.
19. Mr Leon Perera asked about how we expose our students to diverse perspectives. This is already happening; it’s already done in subjects like social studies, history, and geography, students undertake learning journeys: they come to parliament and witness parliamentary debates. Their learning is well-supported by educators. Our students examine evidence and different viewpoints before arriving at informed and reasoned conclusions. This includes exploring the rationale behind policy decisions, and the pros and cons of alternatives. In General Paper lessons, students consider different perspectives and learn to differentiate between fact and opinion. One of the NE Review Committee’s recommendations is for students to discuss contemporary issues on a more regular basis, and not just during these subject periods that I have just mentioned.
20. Bendemeer Secondary School is a school which already makes a conscious effort to do so and provides an example of how we can develop the process further. When I visited the school, I saw students having lively discussions on their own on issues relevant to Singapore, such as the environment, a car-lite society, technology and future jobs. The school is looking to deepen this practice in the Character and Citizenship Education periods, so that students have the time and space to explore their convictions and reflect upon such issues.
21. Our students may not always agree with each other, and indeed in Bendemeer Secondary School, the session that I witnessed, there was a lively debate. And they may not even agree with their teachers. But we do want to ensure that there is a space for respectful conversations, that we nurture in our students, open-mindedness, respect for each other, and that they develop the skills for critical thinking.
22. The second group of interventions is that we will facilitate citizenship experiences which empower our students, allowing them to find their own meaning as citizens. There are already milestone experiences throughout a student’s journey in our schools, such as the NE Show for all Primary 5 students, and subsequently things like the Outward Bound Singapore.
23. Schools like Ping Yi Secondary School decided to try something different. Their 15-year-old students receive their NRICs in a special school ceremony that emphasises that despite their different backgrounds, these 15-year-olds must stand together and understand the shared privileges and responsibilities of being Singaporean. So we look forward to making more of such cohort- or school-based experiences meaningful and available for our students.
24. Educators are critical to any learning experience, so the third thrust of our effort supports our teachers. They have been doing well, and going forward, we will include more professional development opportunities and involve experienced educators in spearheading pedagogical innovation.
25. If I may return to some of the questions that Mr Perera asked, he took a particular view about labels, and perhaps my labelling of his comments as partisan politics. Sir, I provided those words not as a label but as an explanation of what he was asking for, and perhaps I may need to expand upon why I believe that that is an apt explanation for what he is asking for. He himself has acknowledged that he has attended schools, in a non-partisan, non-political capacity. There is no obstruction to him doing so. What he is asking for, is for him to be allowed to attend in a partisan, political capacity. There is a difference, and he seems to believe that he has previously attended in a non-partisan political capacity. But I am assuming that the reason he is asking to attend in a partisan capacity is because he is assuming that everybody else attends only in a political partisan capacity. This is a level of hubris that is really quite remarkable. If he can attend in a non-partisan non-political way, I think the assumption should be in good faith that other people can do as well. What he is asking for, what he is implying is for him to attend in a partisan political way somehow provides balance within our existing framework. That is not so. What he is asking for, is a fundamental shift that we bring partisan political debates by elected Members of Parliament into the schools. That is not what we do currently, and so it would be inappropriate for an invitation to be extended to him in his capacity as a member of a political party and as a Member of Parliament. It is not a label, Mr Chairman, it is an explanation that what he is asking for is inappropriate.
26. Professor Daniel Goh asked about our students’ nutritional health. MOE had worked with the Health Promotion Board to survey our students’ nutritional habits, and also in the rollout of the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme. Under this programme, canteen stalls prepare food with healthier ingredients and use healthier cooking methods. Since January 2017, all mainstream schools have come on board this programme.
27. Our schools also recognise that students benefit from meal breaks, so that they can sustain their energy and focus. Students have two meal breaks a day, with a longer lunch break if there are afternoon programmes.
28. We help our students understand the importance of a healthy and balanced diet. Primary school students are taught to read food labels, plan healthy meals, and the importance of eating enough and eating right. As MOE and HPB continue to work to build up their knowledge and their habits, I must stress the vital role that parents play in reinforcing these healthy habits at home.
29. Sir, MOE’s efforts are ultimately part of our Government’s commitment to a society where people have the opportunity to do better and progress, regardless of their starting point in life.
PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL
30. Ms Sylvia Lim asked about MOE’s tracking of social mobility. Last week, the Minister for Finance updated the House on the Government’s efforts, to study social mobility as measured by the incomes of adult Singaporeans as compared to their parents’.
31. On MOE’s part, we track closely the progress of all students in our education system. Like other countries, we do pay close attention to those from more disadvantaged family backgrounds. We monitor how they fare in school, including at key milestones of education attainment, their progression to post-secondary institutions, including the polytechnics and universities. More importantly, we put in place programmes to give extra support to those who need it – right from early childhood prior to Primary 1 and many different interventions including meals, career counselling and learning support programmes.
32. As a result of these interventions, we have made significant progress. Today, 9 in 10 students from the bottom 20% of the socio-economic status backgrounds progress to post-secondary education. 15 years ago, only 5 in 10 did. Today, more than half of our students who live in 1- to 3-room flats progress on to a publicly-funded degree or diploma programme.
33. Internationally, as I updated this House last month, our 15-year-old students from the most disadvantaged families, performed significantly better in PISA than OECD students of similar socio-economic background.
34. Sir, social mobility has always been, and will continue to be, a priority of education. We start early on, we ensure access to quality education for all students, and on top of that, levelling-up programmes for the disadvantaged to give them every opportunity for success. In our institutes of higher learning, our students are prepared well for the workforce, with around 9 in 10 of them able to get a job within 6 months of graduation.
35. With MOE Kindergartens and the NIEC, we are also seeking to improve access to quality pre-school education. Our efforts to provide space for exploration and applied learning in schools will benefit all students regardless of their backgrounds.
36. In the higher education space, as well as in our future economy, it is about the diversity of pathways that recognise and reward different strengths, as well as investments in continuous learning and relearning that will ultimately serve our mission of ensuring that social mobility is maintained in this nation of ours.
37. Sir, as we look forward to a new future, with many paths and many new possibilities, our education system continues to evolve, trying different things, and trying to do things differently. What has remained unchanged, is the belief that all of us together – MOE, schools, parents and the community – must continue to provide all our students with opportunities and experiences that bring out the best in them, so that we can all realise our collective potential as a nation.
38. Thank you.