The process of thrashing out the details of a new milestone policy that makes it compulsory for children with moderate to severe special needs to go to school has begun.
An expert panel has been formed and it held its first meeting last Thursday. It will look into matters ranging from possible exemptions for those with serious conditions, to concerns about the special transport and medical needs that these children will require in school.
Its chairman, Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary, said the panel will look at the finer details of implementing compulsory education for children with special needs "so that we can appreciate concerns and operational difficulties, and think through what are the best solutions for our children".
For instance, there may be a small group of children with serious conditions who cannot attend school or whose parents still prefer to teach their children at home.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said in a statement yesterday the advisory panel comprises professionals with a range of expertise, including special education (Sped) leaders, educators and medical practitioners.
They will consult Sped schools, educators, parents and voluntary welfare organisations. The panel is expected to present its findings to MOE by the end of next year.
Last month, MOE said it was making it mandatory for all children with moderate to severe special needs to complete six years of primary education at publicly funded schools before they turn 15. The new policy takes effect from 2019.
One of the panel members, AWWA School principal Ruby Chiew, hopes to look into easing parents' fears about sending their children to school, and the transport and medical issues they face.
PUSH FOR QUALITY
(Compulsory education is) only one way to help improve the lives of students with special needs. We cannot let up on measures to improve the quality of education through effective curriculum development and delivery.
MP DENISE PHUA
"I hope parents can understand that education is not just about academics, but about teaching the children life skills to lead independent lives, like mobility, socialisation and communication skills."
MP Denise Phua, the panel's vice-chairman, said that compulsory education is "only one way to help improve the lives of students with special needs".
"We cannot let up on measures to improve the quality of education through effective curriculum development and delivery," she said, adding that lifelong learning and further skills training must be available for students with special needs once they leave formal schooling.
• Dr Janil Puthucheary (chairman), Minister of State for Education
• Ms Denise Phua (vice-chairman), president of Autism Resource Centre and chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education
• Dr Sharifah Mariam Aljunied, a principal educational psychologist at the Ministry of Education
• Mr Ang Wei Neng, member of Grace Orchard School's school management committee and member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education
• Ms Chia Yong Yong, president of SPD, formerly known as the Society for the Physically Disabled, and a Nominated MP
• Madam Ruby Chiew, principal of AWWA School
• Dr Chong Shang Chee, senior consultant and head of National University Hospital's Child Development Unit
• Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of Canossian School's school management committee
• Mr Ho Jack Yong, assistant director of diversity and inclusion at Singapore Management University
• Ms Tina Hung, deputy chief executive officer of the National Council of Social Service
• Madam Law Li Mei, principal of Fairfield Methodist School (Primary)
• Dr Lee Tung Jean, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Social and Family Development
• Mrs Pek Kwee Lan, principal of Endeavour Primary School
• Ms Suzana Soo, principal of Minds Lee Kong Chian Gardens School
• Mrs June Tham, former executive director of the Rainbow Centre
• Mr Wong Siew Hoong, director-general of Education at MOE
• Dr Faye Yang Phey Hong, senior principal psychologist at KK Women's and Children's Hospital Child Development Department