Inclusivity doesn't help only those with special needs

It was inspiring to read that in Finland, "everyone shares a strong belief in raising children to be not just book-smart but also open-minded and accepting of others", and that 95 per cent of special needs children there are in publicly funded regular schools (Learning for all, the Finnish way; Oct 28).

In contrast, children in Singapore of different abilities are segregated, with learning tailored accordingly. This has resulted in a huge gap between those who can get ahead and those who are left behind.

Even though I am thankful that my youngest son (with moderate autism) attends a nurturing and caring mainstream pre-school, I wonder what will happen after he graduates.

Do I dare envision a future where our society will embrace the belief that when "children get along with different kinds of people, they will succeed, because they are more open-minded when they grow up"?

Or are we a nation that fears that such a belief will reverse our continued development to stay ahead of global competition? If that's the fear, then isn't the example of Finland, consistently placed among the top in many global ranking barometers, enough to allay that fear?

When my wife and I visited a couple of mainstream primary schools to look for one for our son, we were informed that while there are allied educators to provide support for special needs children, it would still be a challenge for my son to fit in, both academically and socially. So we were encouraged to seek a place in a special school instead.

While we do see that a special school with a smaller class size and specially trained teachers will better meet our son's needs, we were concerned about his socialisation and eventual assimilation into society, and thought that a mainstream school would benefit him in the long run.

Singapore has recently taken steps to address the over-emphasis on grades by reducing the number of examinations. But I strongly believe it is now timely to consider making schools more inclusive too, since from next year, all children with moderate to severe special needs will be included in the Compulsory Education framework.

I believe having more inclusive schools will not only benefit special needs children, but also, more importantly, raise a generation of people to be more compassionate and accepting of those with different (but not necessarily lesser) abilities.

Kelvin Seah Lee Nguon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2018, with the headline 'Inclusivity doesn't help only those with special needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe