Ensure special ed schools well prepared for changes

It is heartening to note that the Compulsory Education Act now includes special needs children in the education system ("School a must for special needs children"; last Saturday, and "Schools boost support for students with special needs"; yesterday).

The Government may assure parents of different avenues for financial help, as well as provide the physical infrastructure and manpower to ensure that compulsory education is extended to children with disabilities ("MOE reassures parents who worry about lack of finances"; last Saturday).

However, finances are not the only consideration of parents in not sending their special needs children to school.

In this respect, I hope that the Ministry of Education (MOE) is flexible in granting approvals for exemption for special education in schools.

Take, for example, my 29-year-old son who has global developmental delay.

He was admitted into a publicly funded special education (Sped) school when he was eight, after being on the waiting list for two years.

However, the school system then was so rigid that it stifled my son's interest in going to school.

I was told off many times for letting my son wear physical education attire to school, even though he has poor motor skills and was unable to handle the zip and buttons on his uniform when using the toilet.

A teacher who had more than 10 years' teaching experience in a Sped school told me that she was "scared" of my son when he misbehaved. A principal threatened to expel my son when his school attendance fell.

Finally, I took my son completely out of school when he was 15.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said in a Facebook post last Friday that the change in the Act is a huge step in making Singapore more inclusive, and that it would open up opportunities for continual learning and employment for special needs children.

Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary also said: "The places, the spaces are there, but what are the skills and resources that need to be deployed?"

The society as a whole has to change.

We have to learn to treat everybody with dignity, regardless of whether they are normal, have special needs or are socially disadvantaged. The bullying and social stigmatisation have to stop.

Betty Ho Peck Woon (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2016, with the headline 'Ensure special ed schools well prepared for changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe