MOE doing more to help disadvantaged students

Above: Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said "where we begin in life will not dictate where we end up". Right: Contract job worker Rahmat Mohamad, 45, and housewife Suriyati Faidi, 44, are glad that their children
Above: Contract job worker Rahmat Mohamad, 45, and housewife Suriyati Faidi, 44, are glad that their children - Saiful Alam Shah, 10, Arif Muhammad, eight, and Sitihajar Rahmat, six - are on financial aid.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Above: Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said "where we begin in life will not dictate where we end up". Right: Contract job worker Rahmat Mohamad, 45, and housewife Suriyati Faidi, 44, are glad that their children
Above: Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said "where we begin in life will not dictate where we end up".ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Presbyterian High School student Sam (not his real name), who has autism, has a flair for playing the ruan, a Chinese stringed instrument, but was fearful of performing in front of others.

The Secondary 2 student also found it hard to approach teachers and speak in front of his class.

Mr Lae Chung Kit, an allied educator, then worked closely with Sam's teachers and parents to help him manage his anxiety in social situations. Sam eventually plucked up the courage to not just speak to a crowd, but also put up a ruan performance in front of his entire school, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday during a debate on education for our future, Associate Professor Faishal said much is being done in both mainstream and special education schools to support students like Sam with learning difficulties.

A programme to help graduates of special education schools transition to work is expected to expand to 15 schools by next year, up from 12. So far, 150 students have benefited from the scheme started in 2015.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) and NMP Chia Yong Yong shared concerns that society still sees those with special needs as burdens rather than as equals.

Currently there are 31,000 students with special needs - 80 per cent of them are in mainstream schools and 20 per cent attend 19 special education schools.

Students from disadvantaged families and those weaker in their studies have also been given more support in recent years, said Prof Faishal, citing greater financial aid and kindergartens set up by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which reserve one-third of places for Singaporean children from low-income families.

He cited the example of Primary 1 pupil Sitihajar Rahmat, who had benefited from subsidies when she attended the MOE kindergarten co-located with her current school, Riverside Primary. Her housewife mother, Mrs Suriyati Faidi, 44, said she is glad her three children are on financial aid as it covers school fees and other expenses.

Prof Faishal said more teachers are provided to ensure that lower primary pupils who need more help in English and mathematics have learning support sessions in groups of fewer than 10. They would have received 60 per cent more resourcing than a peer not on the programme.

MOE is committed to ensuring equal access to opportunities for every child, from pre-school to adulthood, said Prof Faishal. "Where we begin in life will not dictate where we end up. Only then can we call ourselves a truly inclusive nation."

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'MOE doing more to help disadvantaged students'. Print Edition | Subscribe