Special education teaching to get boost from $7.5 million gift by Lien Foundation

The $7.5 million gift will support a new programme to beef up the special needs sector here. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

SINGAPORE - Special needs students and their teachers are poised to benefit from a raft of initiatives aimed at beefing up resources, training and partnerships in the special education (Sped) sector.

Funded by a $7.5 million gift from the Lien Foundation, the programme will include efforts to build a network of leaders and enhance the quality of training for educators through learning journeys. 

Called Project Greatly Enhanced Networks In Education (Genie), it will also seek to develop relevant local teaching resources for the Sped sector and foster partnerships, said the National Institute of Education (NIE) and the philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation.

In a joint statement  on Wednesday (April 6), the two organisations said: “A common thread across these initiatives is the opportunities for exchanges among educators working in mainstream primary schools, special education, pre-schools and early intervention to bring about greater harmonisation across these sectors.”

There will also be two professorships set up at NIE under Project Genie – the Lien Ying Chow Visiting Professorship and Lien Foundation Chair Professorship.

The visiting professorship aims to attract the best minds to NIE to contribute to the vision of Singapore’s education system for the future, starting with the development of educational programmes and research, the statement said.

The Lien Foundation Chair Professorship, it added, will give “due recognition to the advances that faculty have made”. 

It said: “It further encourages developments in the field and strengthens the institute’s capacity to support the special needs sector.”

Professor Vivienne Riches, who is a psychologist, researcher and consultant at the Centre for Disability Studies in the Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney, has been appointed the first Lien Ying Chow Visiting Professor, the statement said.

The project will also seek to foster a community of leaders in special and inclusive education and encourage cross-sector collaboration through two leadership programmes.

The first is a six-month programme, called Inclusion Matters, for leaders in the special needs sector and Sped and early intervention ecosystem, including teachers, principals and psychologists.

It will provide facilitated sessions for leaders to meet and better understand one another’s vision and practices.

The second leadership programme called Principal Matters + will be conducted by NIE in collaboration with the National Institute of Early Childhood Development.

It will be an executive programme for cluster-level pre-school leaders and above who manage large operations.

The two programmes will cater to two cohorts of 25 participants each.

Project Genie will also work to improve teacher training by developing resources for trainee teachers, the statement said. It will focus on interdisciplinary collaboration between professionals and share best practices and case studies on strategies used for the inclusion of students with special needs.

These resources will deal with dyslexia, autism and behavioural challenges.

The statement said: “Previously limited to international resources, these new materials will expose educators to relevant practices with local context and nuances.”

Associate Professor Caroline Koh, head of psychology and child and human development at NIE, said building up local knowledge on special needs education is important as there is still much work to be done in the local context.

She said: “How Asian or Singaporean parents react is quite different from European or American parents, and at the moment, most of the research comes from the West and in English-speaking contexts.

“Culturally, they are different from us, and the way we approach the solution to problems should be different.”

Project Genie will also support learning journeys and book prizes for teachers training in special education.

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