SINGAPORE - Kindle Garden, said to be Singapore's first inclusive pre-school, has been oversubscribed since it started operations in January. At the centre, in Lengkok Bahru, children with special needs learn alongside other children.
Giving an update at the end of its first term on Thursday (March 31), the pre-school said it has 75 places, of which 55 have been taken up. The remaining 20 vacancies are set aside for next year's K2 children - so when this year's K1 children are promoted to K2 next year, the centre would have reached full capacity. However, already, it has a waiting list of 100 children with special needs and 25 other children.
The centre is run by voluntary welfare group AWWA and received $3.6 million from Lien Foundation. It aims to provide all children, with or without special needs, a "values-based, inclusive and non-discriminatory learning environment", said the two groups in a statement. Up to 30 per cent of its places are for children with special needs.
The facility and its programme are designed such that children with special needs can learn alongside other children. For instance, there is a toy car big enough for a child on a wheelchair to enter, and play in it with able-bodied friends.
Currently, there are 14 mainstream childcare centres that offer the Integrated Child Care Programme for children with special needs; but this is only for children with mild to moderate disabilities. No therapy is provided at these centres, and each centre has just up to 10 children with special needs enrolled.
Kindle Garden takes in children with mild to severe special needs, including those with autism and Down's Syndrome. Among the 12 staff at Kindle Garden, there is a speech therapist, an occupational therapist and an early intervention teacher. Fees are $980 a month for full-day childcare, before GST and subsidies. This is slightly higher than the industry median of $856 as at January.
About 2,600 children with moderate to severe special needs benefit from the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (Eipic), but 1,800 of them - 70 per cent - do not attend pre-school due to the severity of their needs or the lack of suitable pre-schools.
Kindle Garden said it can currently offer effective intervention for the needs present in half this group, and will evolve to eventually serve the rest too.
Meanwhile, the Lien Foundation is inviting members of the public to share their views on how to make Singapore a more inclusive society for children with special needs. It can be found on http://bit.do/Inclusive. The survey ends on April 14.