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The Singapore Perspective

An example of community and Govt working together

Some kindergarten children cannot tell their teachers if they needed a toilet break while others simply refused to speak.

They have difficulty identifying the sounds associated with the letters of the English alphabet and reading simple English words.

These are children with mild learning or developmental needs who may fall through the cracks when they enter Primary 1 in a mainstream school and face difficulties in keeping up with their peers.

But an early detection and intervention programme for slower learners, including those with mild autism, speech development delays or motor-skill coordination problems, has given them a leg up.

In 2009, Lien Foundation, KK Women's and Children's Hospital and the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) piloted a three-year programme in 25 PCF kindergartens in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

The programme was so successful that the Government adopted aspects of it and scaled it up nationally in 2012.

The project later became known as the development support programme and about 2,000 children in mainstream pre-schools have been enrolled in it, at a cost of $4 million a year.

So one way the Government can work with the community in helping the vulnerable is by providing the resources and the coordination needed to scale up good ideas or feasible innovations.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development, which runs the programme now, found that with just a one-hour session each week with learning support educators, a group of about 290 children aged four to six improved nearly 100 per cent in language, literacy, handwriting and social skills.

It also found that mild learning delays can be arrested through early intervention.

Through repeated, regular learning cues, children can level up to be equal with their peers.

The initial pioneering concept had a mobile team comprising a paediatrician, a psychologist, therapists and other learning support providers visit the pre-schools to offer therapy to the pupils, advice to teachers and guidance to parents.

Its key objective was to help children with milder development needs within the school itself. This early intervention forestalls the need for them to be referred to doctors or therapists in hospitals and be put through a long wait for their appointments.

Back then, children with mild developmental needs can easily go unnoticed because only those with severe disabilities have programmes serving them.

Doctors estimate that about 5 per cent to 6 per cent - at least 2,000 children - from each cohort of pre-schoolers have a range of developmental problems that could trip them up as they make their way through the education system.

"The Government and funding agencies should create the right incentives and environment to encourage stakeholders to practise the art of the possible, and not just tinker with what is permissible," said Mr Lee Poh Wah, chief executive officer of Lien Foundation.

"Such experiments, innovation and collaboration must be anchored on interdependence, mutual trust and respect."

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'An example of community and Govt working together'. Print Edition | Subscribe