Debate on ministries’ budgets: Communications and Information

Parliament: Schools are inclusive, workplaces and society must be too, says Indranee

People from SPD, a charity for those with disabilities, packing bags for last year's ST Run. Ms Indranee Rajah said tertiary institutes help students with special needs build up their confidence and independence.
People from SPD, a charity for those with disabilities, packing bags for last year's ST Run. Ms Indranee Rajah said tertiary institutes help students with special needs build up their confidence and independence.ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS CHONG

Schools already are committed to ensuring that children with special needs get a full education, but the Government can only do so much. Society and employers also need to be inclusive, said Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah.

She was responding to questions from four MPs about the quality and accessibility of resources in mainstream schools and institutes of higher learning for students with special educational needs.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh from the Workers' Party said: "It seems that special educational needs support has improved tremendously in primary and secondary schools, but there is a big jump when graduates go on to tertiary educational institutes and are treated as fully independent adults."

Ms Indranee said: "As our education system develops to cater to a wider spectrum of students, the support and resources we provide have been improving in tandem."

She cited examples of teaching tools and assistive learning devices that have been introduced in mainstream schools to support such students. These include Frequency Modulation equipment, Braille notebooks, computer systems with specialised features, talking calculators and voice synthesizers.

"More importantly, we have a strong network of support to guide students with special educational needs in their educational journey, from enrolment to graduation," Ms Indranee added.

She said that over the past five years, the number of allied educators for learning and behavioural support in mainstream schools has increased by over 40 per cent. There is also a core group of teachers in primary and secondary schools who have been trained to support students with special educational needs.


Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) asked about lifelong learning pathways for these students and the help they get when entering the workforce. "Many students with special educational needs need to be schooled in literacy and numeracy or the mainstream academics," she said.

"But they also need time throughout life to learn a host of skills that are often picked up more naturally by their typical peers - skills such as self-management, home and community living, sexuality and skills on how to navigate in a world that is rapidly changing."

Ms Indranee replied: "To prepare them for transition into the workforce, the institutes of higher learning work on building up their confidence and independence while still in school. This helps them develop strong coping and management skills for life and take charge of their own learning needs."

Education and career guidance counsellors and teachers also work with these students to help them identify their strengths and find work-related opportunities that interest and suit them.

Ms Indranee cited the example of Rachael Lum, a former student of Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School who is hemiplegic and thus has weaker functions on the right side of her body. Rachael started her community-based work experience while at school by partnering with potential employers for month-long work attachments.

One of her work-attachment employers, Foreword Coffee, provided visuals and labels to help her remember steps to take for certain tasks and gave her an electric whisk to stir drinks to accommodate her reduced motor skills. She later completed a further six-month internship at Foreword Coffee and having graduated, the 19-year-old now works there as a part-time service crew member.

Ms Indranee said: "I would like to encourage employers to be open to employing persons with special needs, and to design workplaces and processes to accommodate them. Most importantly, I would encourage all to look beyond disabilities and think more in terms of what their strengths and talents are.

"See them as people who - just like everyone else - have hopes, dreams and aspirations. We should accept them as they are... Only then can we be truly inclusive."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'Schools are inclusive, workplaces and society must be too: Indranee'. Subscribe