Speeches/Interviews

March 04, 2019

MOE FY2019 Committee of Supply Debate Response by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah

SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS

1. Mr Chairman, I thank members who spoke on MOE Kindergartens (MKs) and students with special educational needs (SEN) for their encouragement, as we continue with our efforts to support these students.

2. Let me first address Professor Daniel Goh’s suggestion for MKs to support partial home-schooling.

3. MKs offer a coherent curriculum through a daily four-hour programme. The MK curriculum resources are developed by MOE for trained MK educators to plan and carry out specific learning activities. The curriculum nurtures children holistically, in a social setting, so that they are confident, demonstrate strong social skills and have a good foundation in literacy and numeracy. Partial use would not be optimal for the child. As such, we would strongly encourage parents to send their child to the MKs daily.

4. Ms Cheng Li Hui asked if we intend to make preschool education compulsory. Today, almost all Singaporean children aged five to six years are enrolled in preschool; to further make preschool education compulsory for the early years may not cater to the different developmental needs of young children. Instead, we are taking a more targeted approach through KidSTART and other outreach efforts to reach out to the more disadvantaged groups and level up opportunities for all.

5. Let me now share what we are doing to promote inclusivity and support students with SEN throughout their educational journey and entry into the workforce.

MAKING SCHOOLS MORE INCLUSIVE FOR STUDENTS WITH SEN

6. MOE is committed to ensuring that children with SEN receive a proper education. It is in this spirit that children with moderate-to-severe SEN are now included under the Compulsory Education framework.

7. Where possible, we encourage students with SEN to attend mainstream schools. However, for students who require intensive specialised assistance, they will be better supported in Special Education schools (SPED schools).

8. To encourage inclusivity, understanding and empathy between students with SEN and their peers, SPED schools have forged close partnerships with mainstream schools, and organised activities to promote closer interaction and integration between their students.

9. For instance, Assumption English School, Assumption Pathway School, Fajar, Greenridge, Jurong and Zhenghua Secondary Schools together with Rainbow Centre, a SPED school, have come together for a Visual Arts Collaboration programme.

10. Last year, the students created a 3D artwork from recycled materials titled ‘Skyline of our Community’. The students bonded over their shared love of Art and the collaboration enriched them in many ways.

11. Within mainstream schools, students have opportunities for inclusive interactions. Students have shared that they learn useful life lessons from their peers with SEN, such as resilience to overcome daily challenges. They also realise that it is important to be there for one another.

12. This was echoed by Benjamin Loh, a P4 student from Nanyang Primary, who was assigned as a buddy to his classmate with SEN. Benjamin said, “By being a buddy to a friend with special needs, I’ve learned how to take care of people better than I used to. I’ve also learned that he can’t do some things, but he’s really good at other things. He is really good at Art and draws very well. My advice to other kids who might be worried about having a classmate with special needs is, don’t worry! They are very nice. When they are frustrated or sad, tell them you’ll help them.” For Benjamin and his classmates, learning together in the same classroom environment is beneficial in fostering healthy, inclusive interactions with one another, whatever their perceived differences.

SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS WITH SEN IN MAINSTREAM SCHOOLS AND IHLS

13. Ms Denise Phua, Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar, Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Professor Daniel Goh asked about the quality and accessibility of resources for students with SEN in mainstream schools and IHLs.

14. As our education system develops to cater to a wider spectrum of students, the support and resources we provide have been improving in tandem. Our mainstream schools have introduced infrastructure accommodations and teaching tools to support students with SEN. For example, assistive learning devices are provided at no cost to students with hearing loss, visual impairment and physical impairment. These devices include frequency modulation equipment, Braille notebooks, computer systems with specialised features, talking calculators, voice synthesizers, customised furniture and specialised software.

15. More importantly, we have a strong network of support to guide students with SEN in their educational journey, from enrolment to graduation. Across mainstream schools and IHLs, our staff provide an eco-system of support for students with SEN. For instance, they work with parents and the previous school to better understand the student’s needs, and facilitate smoother transitions in their educational journey.

16. In mainstream schools, we have our Allied Educators (Learning and Behavioural Support) [AED(LBS)] who have all undergone a customised NIE Diploma programme in Special Education. They can also attend a range of in-service professional development modules and conferences to strengthen their knowledge of special needs support. Over the last five years, we have grown the number of AED (LBS) by over 40%.

17. In addition, a core group of teachers in all primary and secondary schools are equipped with deeper knowledge and skills in supporting students with special needs, through a Certificate level training in Special Needs at NIE. These are known as Teachers Trained in Special Needs. While we will continue to recruit and train these school personnel with deeper experience and skills, one of their key roles is to equip all their colleagues to better support students with SEN and their families. This creates a network of support for our students.

18. About two-thirds of academic staff in our polytechnics and ITE have undergone basic training to attain awareness and basic skills to support students with SEN. All our IHLs have a SEN Support Office on campus which employ full-time staff professionally trained to support students with SEN. For example, the Learning Support Specialists in ITE have at least a Diploma in Special Education.

SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS WITH SEN ENTERING THE WORKFORCE

19. What happens next for students with SEN, after graduating from school? To prepare them for transition into the workforce, the IHLs work on building up their confidence and independence while still in school. This helps them develop strong coping and management skills for life and to take charge of their own learning needs.

20. Education and Career Guidance Counsellors and teachers work with the students, to help them identify their strengths and find work-related opportunities that interest and suit them. Likewise, the IHLs collaborate closely with SG Enable and other Voluntary Welfare Organisations to support persons with special needs through internship and mentoring programmes.

21. The benefit of strong collaboration between schools and workplaces can be seen from the example of Rachael, a former student from Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School. She is hemiplegic and has weaker functions on the right side of her body. Despite her special needs, Rachael is confident, hardworking and has a passion for helping others. These traits positioned Rachael for success, when she started her community-based work experience while at school. Rachael was partnered with potential employers for month-long work attachments at various businesses, such as a supermarket, a laundry factory and a cafe. Her teachers and job coaches taught her to travel independently from her home to the various work locations.

22. She was also supported with customised, on-the-job training opportunities. For example, Foreword Coffee, one of her employers, provided visuals and labels to help her remember steps to take for certain tasks. To accommodate her reduced motor skills, they provided Rachael with an electric whisk to stir drinks. Rachael completed a further 6-month internship with Foreword Coffee and after graduating, she now works there as a part-time service crew member, whipping up spiced chai latte, hot chocolate and the like.

23. We acknowledge the significant challenges that persons with special needs face in adult life, and the need for them to receive timely and relevant vocational and life skills training.

24. Today, MOE already has various incentives to enhance lifelong learning for persons with special needs, beyond the regular Continuing Education and Training subsidies and support available to all Singaporeans. For example, we have launched the SkillsFuture Study Awards for persons with special needs, to enhance employability by developing and deepening relevant competencies and skill-sets.

25. We will continue to partner with community stakeholders to support life-long learning for persons with special needs, including those from SPED schools.

26. Over the years, our education system has evolved to provide greater support for students with SEN and equip them for work and life, upon graduation. MOE will continue to work closely with students, parents, community partners, government agencies and employers to help students with SEN realise their full potential.

27. However, being truly inclusive goes beyond what MOE or the government can do. It also requires society at large – employers, peers and the community – to be part of this.

28. I would like to encourage employers to be open to employing persons with special needs, and to design workplaces and processes to accommodate them. Workplace colleagues also have a role to play in creating an environment that is welcoming and supportive of persons with special needs.

29. Most importantly, I would like to encourage all to look beyond disabilities and think more in terms of what their strengths and talents are. See them as people who – just like everyone else – have hopes, dreams and aspirations. We should accept them as they are, and include them. Only then can we be truly inclusive.