Three new government-funded special education schools will be set up over the next few years, to address the growing demand for places in autism-focused schools.
Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah announced this yesterday among a slew of initiatives to strengthen support for students with special needs, which include peer support programmes.
From next January, six special education schools will lower their fees by at least 25 per cent for Singapore citizens.
Among special education schools, these six, which include Eden School and Grace Orchard School, currently charge higher monthly fees of between $200 and $350 for students with autism.
Speaking yesterday at a concert organised by Extra.Ordinary People, a charity that supports special needs children and youth, Ms Indranee said the Government has spent more on special education.
Over the past five years, total funding for special education schools rose by about 40 per cent.
Currently, 20 per cent of students with special needs are in 19 special education schools. These students could have intellectual disabilities, autism or multiple disabilities. The rest, 80 per cent, or 26,000 students, with mild special needs, attend mainstream schools. This figure has doubled from 13,000 in 2013.
Currently, there are six schools which take in students with autism and/or multiple disabilities: Pathlight School, AWWA School, Eden School, two Rainbow Centre Schools and St Andrew's Autism School.
In her speech at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Centre, Ms Indranee said that charity organisation Metta Welfare Association will operate one of the new schools in 2021, with about 25 places per cohort.
This new campus, to be located in the east, will be ready in 2024 and will cater to students aged seven to 18 with moderate to severe special needs who have both autism and intellectual disability.
In the interim, from 2021, their lessons will be at the current campus of Metta School in Simei which the organisation operates.
The second new school will be run by the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) for students with moderate autism and can access the national curriculum.
This will be Pathlight School's third campus, after Ang Mo Kio and Tampines.
More details about the third school will be out later.
Students with special needs in mainstream schools are also set to have more social and emotional support from peers and teachers.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) has already introduced two programmes in some schools to encourage students to help one another by providing socio-emotional support, and training school staff to better meet the needs of students who have difficulties such as anxiety issues.
Ms Indranee said these two programmes, known as Circle Of Friends and Facing Your Fears, will be rolled out to all schools in the next few years.
As part of Circle Of Friends, primary and secondary students with special needs facing social, emotional and behavioural difficulties meet over five to eight sessions with their form teacher or allied educator, along with friends.
Under Facing Your Fears, those who struggle with anxiety issues in secondary school will have 10 weekly sessions with a group of two to four peers with similar needs. This programme is conducted by allied educators who specialise in learning and behavioural support.
Ms Indranee said both schemes were designed based on research and MOE's evaluation studies.
Strategies to cope include self-management skills such as deep breathing and taking gradual steps to face specific fears.