SINGAPORE - A new vocational education syllabus will be rolled out for students in 20 special education (Sped) schools in January next year to better prepare them for work.
Under the new syllabus, students aged 13 to 18 will get a wider range of job exposure activities, which will be customised to their needs and strengths, and schools will emphasise the teaching of soft skills such as communication.
Schools will also adopt a broader concept of work including home-based work and self-employment, beyond supported and open employment.
Open employment refers to regular work where people with disabilities work independently alongside their colleagues, whereas those in supported employment receive support at the workplace, typically in the form of job coaches or modifications to the job.
Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman, who launched the revamped syllabus on Wednesday (July 27) at Rainbow Centre Yishun Park School, said that every student, no matter the extent of their special needs, can contribute to society in their own way.
"Work has traditionally been defined as open and/or paid employment, under the assumption that work must be an activity of economic value. Yet, in reality, many people are not paid for the work they do," he said.
"Our new syllabus recognises that work comes in different forms. We want to recognise the valued contribution that our students can make in a range of settings from open employment to supported and customised employment, from sheltered employment to home-based work and volunteering."
The new syllabus builds on the Ministry of Education's (MOE) 2010 framework for vocational education, which is one of the seven key parts of the Sped curriculum that the the ministry has been progressively revamping since 2020.
The teaching and learning syllabuses for two areas - daily living skills and visual arts - were launched last year. The remaining aspects like communication and language, numeracy, social-emotional learning and physical education will be gradually rolled out over the next few years.
Dr Maliki said that beyond learning hard skills, the syllabus will also equip students with soft skills such as communication, adaptability, problem-solving, and self-management.
MOE will work with SG Enable to develop a training road map for job coaches in Sped schools so that they are better equipped to impart soft skills, assess learning through work activities and working with families.
Students will be given more avenues to explore a range of work opportunities in the community or school based on their interests and strengths.
Such activities can be customised to students' needs and could increase in duration and complexity over time.
The latest syllabus comes amid efforts to improve job prospects for Sped graduates.
Currently, about 450 students graduate from these schools yearly. Around half of them are employed in sectors such as horticulture, food and beverage, retail and hospitality or progress to institutes of higher learning, such as the Institute of Technical Education.
There is also the School-to-Work Transition Programme, which provides Sped graduates with customised job training to transit to the workplace.
More than 250 students have participated in the scheme since its launch in 2014, with 80 per cent of them getting jobs.
Educators said the greater emphasis on soft skills in the new syllabus is a good move, as they have observed how such abilities are crucial for work.
Madam So Kah Lay, principal of Metta School, which caters to students with mild intellectual disabilities and autism, said: “Soft skills are just as important as hard skills, if not more, as that’s what keeps you in a job.”
Having a broader definition of work is also refreshing, she said.
“It means that everyone is covered, even those who were previously deemed as not capable of work.
“You never know – a community project like gardening or drawing could turn into paid work.”
Ms Ong Zeng Zi, a teacher at AWWA School @ Napiri, said this could help to open more doors for Sped graduates to participate meaningfully in society, especially those with higher needs.
“The challenge will be in redefining remuneration,” she said, and going beyond traditional economic or monetary rewards to positive experiences such as social interaction and friendship.
Mr Edwin Tang, whose 17-year-old daughter Megan has Down syndrome and is in Delta Senior School, said she enjoys dancing as part of an inclusive dance group that performs at community functions.
“It’s commendable that the schools are moving in this direction of recognising such contributions and will provide more of such training,” he said.
Mr Tang, 52, a finance manager, said: “For many parents, it’s still about dollars and cents. But we also have to move beyond that – many people with special needs want to be recognised socially beyond monetary terms.”
Learning skills for life
Twice a week, Muhammad Rifky Shauqi B. Muhd Ricky Famie, 17, goes to Pizza Hut at Northpoint City in Yishun to work in its kitchen, where he slices pizzas and packs orders, among other tasks.
The Rainbow Centre Yishun Park School student said the attachment, which he started in April this year, lets him practise work skills like listening to instructions and being punctual.
Rifky, who has autism, said: “I chose food and beverage because I have kitchen experience and I know how to cook simple meals for my family like instant noodles, fried rice and pasta.”
The challenges he faces include following work schedules and recognising new words, but he is comfortable asking people around him for help.
Learning soft skills such as managing his emotions and conflicts will be helpful, said Rifky, whose father works as a safety officer and mother is a senior sales executive.
Rifky, who has a four-year-old sister, said: “I usually try to distract myself from feelings of sadness by focusing on house chores or work, or listening to some music. I try to avoid arguments because it makes me aggressive and it doesn’t feel good."