Schools boost support for students with special needs

Efforts make it possible for kids with moderate to severe needs to be included under Compulsory Education Act

Students from various special needs schools and Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) at the Lion, which is part of The Future of Us exhibition. PHOTO: ST FILE

Schools have ramped up support for students with special needs in the last decade, from providing financial aid and training more staff to upgrading facilities.

Efforts in this sector have made it possible for children with moderate to severe needs to be included under the Compulsory Education Act - a move that was announced last Friday. Capacity of special education (Sped) schools grew from 2002 to 2012, with 13 purpose-built schools constructed and five schools refurbished during that period. These schools support 5,500 children with moderate and severe needs. Another 18,000 students with mild special educational needs are in mainstream schools.

Each year, about 40 children do not go to Sped schools, likely because of severe medical conditions, or whose parents prefer to homeschool them or send them to private schools.

Some of the 20 Sped schools - which cater to disability types such as intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy - can admit more students, although those which serve children with autism might be feeling a bit of a space crunch.

About 40 per cent of students in Sped schools have autism, up from some 32 per cent in 2011, according to past media reports.

Awwa's chief executive Tim Oei said it will be looking at how to train more teachers to meet a possible growth in student enrolment.

The voluntary welfare group runs Awwa School, which caters to students with multiple disabilities and autism, and has been oversubscribed in the last two years.

More resources have also been poured into staff training - trainee teachers at the National Institute of Education (NIE) now undergo training to gain a basic understanding of helping students with special needs. In 2014, NIE started an advanced diploma in special education to equip allied educators and teachers with skills in classroom and school practices.

There are now 1,000 Sped teachers across the 20 Sped schools, up by about 6 per cent since 2012. All mainstream primary schools have at least one allied educator trained to support kids with mild special needs such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

There have also been efforts in recent years to help students with special needs find employment by matching them to companies based on their interests and strengths.

Sped schools also have plans to work more closely with students from age 13, as well as their families, and help link them up with relevant services after they graduate. For instance, students could have individual transition plans that would help them see which pathways best fit their interests.

Some schools are also investing more in technology-assisted learning. For instance, the Association for Persons with Special Needs, which runs four Sped schools, makes use of interactive games, iPads and augmented reality tech for its students, who have mild intellectual disability and autism.

Dr Victor Tay, the association's president, said these methods, introduced in the last four to five years, helped students, especially those with shorter attention spans, be more engaged in learning.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2016, with the headline Schools boost support for students with special needs. Subscribe