SINGAPORE - Children with hearing loss will get dedicated support for the first time at a pre-school run by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
The kindergarten, which starts operations next year, will teach sign language to children with moderate to profound hearing loss.
The aim is for them to build basic language proficiency in Singapore sign language from a young age, so that they can also learn the same curriculum as their hearing peers.
Besides having a dedicated sign language teacher, children will also have access to external speech and language therapists as well as services provided by audiologists in school.
The centre, which will be located within Mayflower Primary School in Ang Mo Kio, will have a capacity of 120 children per cohort. It will take in seven to 10 children with hearing loss per level from 2022.
There are no plans to expand the specialised support to other MOE kindergartens, as the numbers of children with hearing loss in each cohort are not large.
Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling, who announced this provision on Thursday (Nov 12) during a visit to Mayflower Primary School, said: "We believe that the earlier the children with hearing loss come into contact with the Singapore sign language, the better their foundations in it.
"It will help to build their confidence, and will also allow them to interact better with their peers."
Ms Sun added: "Such a model allows greater inclusion in our education system. It allows our typically developing children to see and interact with children of different abilities."
She said children with hearing loss will benefit from having regular interaction with their peers, as it can boost their confidence and help them socialise better.
The other children will also be able to pick up sign language.
Currently pre-school children with hearing loss receive support from external providers like hospitals and centres which run early intervention programmes.
Mayflower Primary School is the first primary school to take in children with moderate to profound hearing loss who use sign language.
It started with six such children in 2018, and now has nine across the different levels.
The MOE said that its kindergartens already provide support to children with mild developmental delays, who can learn in a group of 20 children.
The ministry said that it will continue to meet the needs of children who require extra support, and help them have a smooth transition to the next phase of education.
About four in 1,000 babies in Singapore are born with hearing loss each year. About one in 1,000 will have severe hearing loss.
Information on the admission process for children with hearing loss to the MOE kindergarten in Mayflower Primary will be released in February 2021.
Mrs Lim-Chua Siow Ling, principal of Mayflower Primary, said that children with hearing loss coming into the school may have varying levels of exposure to Singapore Sign Language.
Having the specialised support in the preschool will help ease the transition for these children to primary school, as early exposure to the language is important for their learning and social skills, she added.