SINGAPORE - Each of the more than 1,900 pre-schools here will have to appoint an inclusion coordinator among their staff from the second half of 2023 as part of efforts to better support children with developmental needs.
These coordinators will receive training and will work with other pre-school educators to identify children with potential developmental needs for assessment, and ensure they receive early intervention support.
"For children with developmental needs, it is paramount to identify needs early and provide the necessary support," said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling during the debate on her ministry's budget on Friday (March 5).
"Our children are precious and we must create environments where they can thrive, and they can feel included and accepted," she added.
She also announced the ministry's other efforts to support inclusion, such as the expansion of the Development Support-Learning Support (DS-LS) and Development Support Plus programmes to more pre-schools to help children who need low levels of early intervention support.
In 2020, the DS-LS programme was offered in about 600 pre-schools, which cover over 40 per cent of pre-schoolers aged five and six. The programme's expansion will cover 60 per cent of the group by 2025 and 80 per cent eventually, said Ms Sun.
The new Inclusive Support Programme pilot, announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Budget 2021, will help pre-schoolers aged three to six who need medium levels of early intervention support.
Currently, a majority of children who need medium or high levels of support require multiple sessions per week at early intervention centres separate from their pre-schools.
The pilot plans to integrate the services provided by intervention centres and the pre-schools, reducing the logistical strain of shuttling between the two venues, and providing more opportunity for better integrated support for the children, said Ms Sun.
Under the programme, pre-schools will have full-time early intervention professionals and visiting allied health professionals who will work closely with early childhood educators to help these children.
Early childhood educators can also upgrade their skill in inclusive education by taking a new Certificate in Inclusive Practice at the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC), to be introduced later this year.
The certificate will teach inclusive strategies to support children with varying needs within pre-schools.
Ms Sun also announced that KidStart, a pilot programme led by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to support children up to age six from low-income families, will be expanding to more regions.
The pilot first began in Kreta Ayer, Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong, Boon Lay and Geylang Serai. Last year, it was expanded to Woodlands and Bedok, with plans for expansion to Ang Mo Kio, Sembawang and Yishun in 2021.
"In 2021, we plan to expand KidStart to Choa Chu Kang, Bukit Panjang and Bukit Batok, on top of the regions already announced," said Ms Sun.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in 2019 that KidStart would be expanded to benefit another 5,000 children by 2023, on top of the more than 1,000 who have benefited since the pilot's launch in 2016.
To support the scale-up, ECDA has set up a dedicated KidStart Singapore office to partner an anchor social service agency in each region for better coordinated outreach to families and implementation of the programme.
Support for mother tongue language training
ECDA is also enhancing the capabilities of early childhood educators who teach mother tongue languages, said Ms Sun.
Since 2019, ECDA and NIEC have been running Certificates in Pre-school Mother Tongue Language Training (CPMTL) for Malay and Tamil languages.
A $2,000 training bonus given to educators who underwent the training before Dec 31 last year and subsequently taught mother tongue language will now be extended to Dec 31 next year.
Ms Sun said there will also be a new CPTML for Chinese language teaching later this year. It will incorporate knowledge of local Chinese culture and heritage.
Ms Ahamed Nisha Mohideen Gani, 34, a Tamil language teacher at Skool4Kidz @ Yishun Orchid Spring, completed the CPTML in February this year. She credits the course with helping her to reconnect with her culture, identity and heritage.
"The course enhanced my grammar, pronunciation and communication in Tamil, and was a very enriching experience for me," she said.
Ms Nisha has since applied the knowledge learnt, such as incorporating an Indian string instrument into her storytelling session with the children, and teaching them folk dances.