The Straits Times
Published on Dec 03, 2012

In fairness to special needs children


I APPLAUD Mrs Padmini Kesavapany's ("Offer more help to special needs children in regular schools"; last Monday) effort in highlighting the plight of children with special needs in mainstream schools. While initiatives by the Ministry of Education to include them are laudable, how prepared are our schools in accepting these children?

As an educational therapist working with students with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder from the mainstream schools, I have heard from my students and their parents that these children were constantly teased and bullied by their peers. Many ended up being ostracised. I attribute it to the lack of awareness and compassion in our children these days.

What saddened me was how some of my students would share with me how their school teachers were not empathetic and understanding. Often, they chose to ignore the students by making them sit in the back row of the classroom - is it a case of out of sight, out of mind? These observations were similarly made by my allied educator friends who witnessed such scenes in their schools.

Understandably, how far can a teacher accommodate a child with learning difficulty in his classroom of 30 to 40 students (on top of their arduous non-core responsibilities)? It is not uncommon to hear them label these children as troublemakers, or even "stupid". In their defence, perhaps many of these teachers are not trained in special education and therefore do not possess the skills to understand or teach these children.

I totally agree with Mrs Kesavapany that unless a child has severe learning and behavioural issues, no mainstream school is impossible for him. What such children need are acceptance and a fair system in which they are able to learn on the same platform as their more able peers.

As American educator Richard Lavoie said: "Fairness does not mean that everyone gets the same... That's equality. Fairness means that everyone gets what he/she needs."

Having a special education centre within a regular school is certainly a good alternative.

Julia Ong (Ms)