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Speed up efforts to improve special education

As a former special education teacher and a person with disability myself, I have been following the issue of special needs education closely ("Why no compulsory education yet"; last Sunday).

The Compulsory Education Act was passed in 2000 despite the fact that only a small number of non-disabled children at the time did not attend school. The reason was that every child should be given the same head start in life and have the opportunity to acquire foundational knowledge.

In short, when it comes to education, no Singaporean child is to be left out or left behind. This rationale surely applies equally to our children with disabilities or special needs.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) is to be commended for its numerous measures to boost the special education sector through the years. I have no doubt that MOE is currently reviewing the situation with all the seriousness it deserves.

But in an era of rapid changes in every sphere in life, incremental improvements are not sufficient.

We should move with more haste on this and accord it a higher priority. Children cannot wait - they grow up and, by then, it would be too late.

There is still much to be done. Besides extending the Compulsory Education Act to children with special needs, MOE might consider running the special education schools directly, instead of having voluntary welfare organisations do so.

There is also a need to further develop curriculum frameworks and enhance teaching expertise, as well as look into recruitment and remuneration issues for those in the special education field.

To address the very real concerns about undue burdens being imposed on parents whose children have severe disabilities or medical conditions which make it impossible for them to attend school, the Act could include a provision to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

These are admittedly challenging goals which require much time, resources and careful planning.

But they are also achievable ones. As an inclusive nation, we must banish the possibility that for want of trained teachers, suitable facilities or legislative enforcement, our most vulnerable children are unable to go to school. I believe we are more than up to the task.

Alvan Yap Boon Sheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Speed up efforts to improve special education'. Print Edition | Subscribe