If society is a chain that is built up over the generations, and if a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then the work of schools such as NorthLight and Assumption Pathway plays a crucial part in strengthening Singapore. By catering to those who face difficulties with mainstream studies, they provide a sanctuary for students who otherwise might have given up on education. Attesting to the success of these institutions, Crest and Spectra secondary schools have become other avenues of hope for young people whom misfortune or missteps were leading towards a dead end. Education-proud Singapore should give unstinting support to the school teachers and administrators who make it possible for the vulnerable young to learn to dream again.
The outcomes of "second-chance" education depend heavily on the way in which disadvantaged children are taught. Studies of the characteristics of effective American programmes have highlighted the use of applied learning methods, with an emphasis on teaching basic skills that students themselves recognise as being relevant to their lives and careers.
No less important is the social environment. Good programmes pay attention to building and sustaining healthy relationships among students and between students and staff. This approach soothes the hurt of feeling rejected and unwanted by peers in an education system with whose demands the child could not keep pace, whether for familial or academic reasons, or both.
These institutions function as an alternative learning environment where a fresh start can be made. The psychological benefits that come from being accepted back into the education system encourage students to view learning not as an imposition but as a part of growing up into responsible citizens.
Commendably, Singapore's specialised schools have taken a holistic approach to reintegrating their students into the school environment. Combining academic learning with vocational and activity-based training in real-life situations, they give the students the self-respect and self-confidence they need to move ahead in life. By making allowances for those with special needs, such as autism, and behavioural problems, they register the need for inclusivity as a goal of education. Most of all, the love and care of the teachers, often in difficult circumstances, show that education remains at heart a moral enterprise where grades matter but children matter much more.
Ultimately, Singapore's specialised schools strengthen the educational and social chain amid the relentless demands made on educators to prepare the young to survive and thrive in an intensely competitive global economy.