True inclusiveness for special needs kids goes beyond the classroom

Ms Bianca Tan working with four-year-old Leong Kar Hoi during a music therapy session that helps to regulate emotions and behaviour.
Ms Bianca Tan working with four-year-old Leong Kar Hoi during a music therapy session that helps to regulate emotions and behaviour. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

I am not sure if making children with moderate to severe special needs who are above six years old complete six years of primary education is considered true "inclusiveness", even with support in fees and funding ("Special needs gaps in 'every child matters' "; Dec 1).

It is good to give such children some intellectual challenges to stimulate their mental growth.

It is a struggle in itself to deal with special needs, how will the children and their parents cope with a rigorous primary education?

I recommend a differentiated curriculum and not a "common" primary education. It is one that strongly encourages learning through play, sensory, hands-on discovery, and that allows these children to revisit the learning experiences repeatedly at their own pace and time.

Perhaps more outdoor gross motor activities and functional life-skill activities could be integrated with our primary school syllabus, as well as helping them to find a lifelong interest and hobby.

But first, there are some questions we need to address:

•What's the true meaning of inclusiveness? Is it about being seated in the same classroom with mainstream pupils, who are themselves struggling with the primary school education? Inclusiveness is about societal acceptance and responsiveness to the needs of children with special needs without judgment, and giving them due respect and a place in society.

•What do our children with special needs think about having to undergo a primary school education? Is it in their best interest? What are the essential knowledge, skills and attitude such children really need in order to be happy and enjoy learning in a stress-free environment?

•What are the objectives of a compulsory primary school education for children with special needs? Inclusiveness for inclusiveness' sake is meaningless, unless these children also echo the same desired outcomes.

•What other options are there besides making it compulsory?

Promoting inclusiveness, and ensuring that resources are available, for children with special needs must go beyond the walls of an educational institution. Our public transport, parks, foodcourts, playgrounds, shopping malls, roads and hospitals must also have inclusive features.

Most importantly, people must be educated to share spaces with children with special needs, with a sense of empathy and respect.

Rebecca Chan (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2016, with the headline 'True inclusiveness for special needs kids goes beyond the classroom'. Print Edition | Subscribe