SINGAPORE - 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.
He also found it difficult to approach his teachers and speak in front of his class.
Credit must be given to Mr Lae Chung Kit, an allied educator who worked closely with Sam's teachers and parents to help him manage his anxiety in social situations, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
Sam eventually applied what he learnt, and put up a ruan performance in front of his entire school.
Associate Professor Faishal, who was speaking in Parliament on Wednesday (July 11) during a debate on "Education for our future", said that much is being done in both mainstream and special education schools to support students with learning difficulties like Sam.
A programme to help graduates from special education schools transition to work is expected to expand to 15 schools by 2019, up from the current 12. So far, 150 students have benefited from the scheme which started in 2015.
Similarly, students from disadvantaged families and those weaker in their studies have been given more support in recent years, said Prof Faishal, citing greater financial assistance and the kindergartens set up by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which reserve one-third of places for Singaporean children from low-income households.
He added that more teachers are provided to ensure that lower primary pupils who need more help in English and mathematics have smaller learning support sessions in groups of fewer than 10. This group of pupils would have received 60 per cent more resourcing, compared to a peer not on the programme.
Prof Faishal said efforts to include children with special needs in society have made progress, but still have a long way to go.
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.
MOE seeks to have a "hybrid approach" to tailor to students with different needs, he said, adding: "A child who has moderate to severe needs will benefit from the extensive support available in special education schools and a paced inclusion in 'real world' settings, through interaction opportunities with peers and adults in a variety of activities."
Meanwhile, a child with mild special needs can attend a mainstream school but will need pull-out sessions to learn some skills more explicitly, he said.
Highlighting the need for society to be inclusive, Prof Faishal said: "In our schools, we must teach our students to be empathetic and accepting of people who are differently-abled from us, who learn at a different pace from us, and who come from different family backgrounds as us.
"Where we begin in life will not dictate where we end up. Only then can we call ourselves a truly inclusive nation."