More help to place special needs kids in schools

A pupil with autism with his teacher at Minds Woodlands Gardens School. The Ministry of Education said it will ensure that Singaporean children with moderate to severe special needs can access learning in a suitable special education school.
A pupil with autism with his teacher at Minds Woodlands Gardens School. The Ministry of Education said it will ensure that Singaporean children with moderate to severe special needs can access learning in a suitable special education school.ST FILE PHOTO

MOE accepts panel's recommendations on compulsory education for these students

Parents of children with special needs will receive more guidance at the pre-primary level in choosing suitable schools, as part of recommendations by an advisory panel.

Those who need homeschooling or are deemed unsuitable to attend any national primary schools - including special education ones - could be exempted from attending publicly funded schools, despite compulsory education kicking in.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) yesterday accepted the recommendations of the panel that was set up to study how compulsory education can be implemented for children with special needs.

Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng had announced in November last year that starting from 2019, children with moderate to severe special needs will need to attend publicly funded schools, unless they apply for an exemption.

The Compulsory Education Act passed in 2000 requires all Singaporean children to complete six years of primary education in national schools before they turn 15.

Parents can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to a year otherwise.

MOE said that it will work towards implementing the panel's recommendations from 2019.

SUITABLE ENVIRONMENT

There is a perception among parents that special education schools are not as good. Many parents prefer their child to stay in mainstream schools...but if the child is not suited to that environment, it can break his confidence.

MR VICTOR TAY, immediate past president of the Association for Persons with Special Needs.

The ministry said it will ensure that Singaporean children with moderate to severe special needs can access learning in a suitable special education school.

It will also provide more support for parents at the pre-primary level to choose schools that meet their children's educational needs.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Education and chairman of the advisory panel, said that the panel kept in mind two key principles: All Singaporean children should be supported in the appropriate educational settings for their needs, and parents have the primary responsibility for ensuring their child attends school.

The panel said that MOE should strengthen existing platforms and processes to support parents in obtaining a diagnosis for their child and making decisions about placement.

To get exemption so as to allow for homeschooling, parents are to propose an individualised educational plan, based on MOE's guidelines, and submit progress reports and be open to home visits.

For those said to be unsuitable to attend national primary schools, parents need to justify why their child's needs cannot be met in such schools.

MOE may consider revoking the exemption if there is evidence that the child's educational interests are not being met in alternative settings.

Accepting the panel's recommendations, Mr Ng said: "We will continue working closely with community partners for the smooth implementation of compulsory education and ensure the quality, affordability and accessibility of special education." Those in the special education sector said that more guidance will help parents make better decisions.

Mr Victor Tay, immediate past president of the Association for Persons with Special Needs, said: "There is a perception among parents that special education schools are not as good.

"Many parents prefer their child to stay in mainstream schools... but if the child is not suited to that environment, it can break his confidence."

He added that screening is very important.

"Hopefully we will see a greater pool of students being more accurately placed in the correct settings, and have fewer transfers during their school years."

He wants the pool of special education teachers to be widened and special education schools made more accessible so that less well-off families need not travel too far.

Lien Foundation's chief executive Lee Poh Wah said that it hopes compulsory education "can create new channels of cooperation between mainstream and special education schools, for instance, in the area of teacher training".

Mainstream schools should also be equipped with more specialised support such as educational psychologists and occupational therapists, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2017, with the headline 'More help to place special needs kids in schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe