Education

A compilation of articles on the educational situation of students with disabilities, as well as opinion pieces on how Singapore can make the education system more inclusive for persons with disabilities.

Design For Humanity, Makerthon 2017

On 26 July 2017, DPA conducted a disability awareness talk and some experiential activities for participants of Design for Humanity – Makerthon 2017. Our Inclusion Ambassadors Margaret, Rosie and Timothy shared the barriers they faced in their daily lives and motivated the participants to come up with assistive devices that will increase their functional independence.

Design for Humanity is a collaboration between Engineering Good Student Chapter (EGSC), the Innovation and Design Centric Programme Student Club (iDCP SC), as well as the Institute of Engineers Singapore NUS Student Chapter (IES-NUS). DPA works with them to raise awareness and help participants to better understand the needs of persons with disabilities.

The theme of the Makerthon 2017 was ‘breaking barriers in the workplace – making workplaces more Inclusive for persons with disabilities through design’ and it aimed to expose more students to humanitarian engineering, empowering them to apply their technical skills for social good.  The Makerthon 2017 was a three day event (26 – 28 July 2017). Participants were given the opportunity to identify a specific area to work on. They generated new ideas, learned relevant technical skills and came up with various exciting prototypes.

The finals were held at National University of Singapore on 28 July 2017. Six teams participated in this Makerthon. Their ideas were presented before a panel of judges to receive feedback. The judges were Dr Dawn-Joy Leong (Board member, Disabled People’s Association), Associate Professor Loh Ai Poh (Director of the Innovation & Design-Centric Programme), Associate Professor Tay Seng Chuan and Associate Professor Mehul Motani.

The winning team combined affordable technology with an innovative social model and developed a button that persons with disabilities would be able to use to call for assistance. The prototype was a simple button that lit up when they needed help. Those who are willing to help can approach the person with disability to offer assistance. The winning team consisted of five students from National University of Singapore (NUS), three students from the Faculty of Engineering and two students from the Faculty of Science.

Assistive devices enable persons with disabilities to function effectively, overcoming the limitations that they may face in their life. DPA encourages students to generate innovative ideas for affordable, accessible and effective technology that can help make workplaces more inclusive for persons with disabilities.

DPA congratulates all the participants and organisers of this Makerthon and welcomes brilliant brains to take up these type of future challenges to create prototypes that can be turned to real solutions promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities.

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Disability awareness must start in schools

Today, 3 May 2016 (print edition)

I was 12 years old when I first discovered I had Tourette syndrome. At the time, I did not know the name of this condition, and I was a frightened young man. My parents thought that I was possessed, my teachers found me a nuisance, and my schoolmates even made fun of me.

I survived all that. Discovering that my condition had a name when I was 27 years old helped me understand it. Today, my parents have more or less accepted it, while others choose not to discuss it.

The world at large is not so forgiving, and I am stared at a lot. Kids snigger at me. Unkind comments are made. Sometimes it hurts, but as an adult looking towards the next half century of my life, this does not matter. What is important is that we do not let our children go through a similar experience.

What concerns me is that today, there are kids who have “invisible disabilities” such as autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or sensory integration disorder.

Do our children, parents and teachers know about these conditions, and why some children are different from others? Do we know how to explain the differences?

Everyone is different. But how are those who are especially different — using a wheelchair, making unusual noises — treated in school? Are they accepted in school? How do the parents teach their children to respond in such situations? How do the children feel about it?

My conversations with educators, doctors and parents often have one common refrain: That our mainstream education system can be a negative experience for our children with disabilities.

The approach by some schools can feel cursory, and there is no requirement for disability awareness education in schools’ curriculum.

We need the authorities to make disability awareness education in schools compulsory, and provide the schools with adequate training and resources. This is something that must be taught at a young age, if we want our children to live in a better place.

Nicholas Aw
President
Disabled People’s Association

*****

Read the unedited longer version of his letter here: https://disabledpeoplesassociation.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/disability-awareness-must-start-in-schools/

Disability awareness in schools

By Nicholas Aw

I was 12 years old when I first discovered I had Tourette Syndrome. At that time there was no name to this condition and I was a frightened young man.  My parents thought I was possessed,  my teachers found me a nuisance and my schoolmates made fun of me.

I survived all that. Subsequently, I found out that my condition had a name when I was 27 years old.  That helped me to discover more about my condition. Today my parents have more or less accepted it, my teachers do not talk about it and my schoolmates generally do not speak about it but some still look at me, bewildered.

The world at large however is not so forgiving and I do get stared at, a lot.  Kids will snigger at me, sometimes unkind comments are made.

Some find me interesting and some find me amusing, others don’t care. Sometimes it hurts but as an adult looking towards the next half century of my life, it does not matter anymore.  What is important now is we must not let our children go through something similar. It’s not difficult, or is it ?

What concerns me today in particular are our kids who have what you call invisible disabilities. Who are they ? Some notable ones are ASD, ADHD, ADD, SID. These disabilities have a name and you would think that being able to put a name to it, much can be done.

Do our children know this ? Do our teachers and parents know why some children are different from others?  How do we explain the differences to the children, teachers and parents?

Everyone is different.

Some tall, some short.

Some big, some small.

Some have straight hair, some have curly hair.

Some have fair skin, some have dark skin.

The list is endless, but in addition;

Some need to use a wheelchair to get about.

Some have difficulties reading.

Some make unusual noises.

Some make unusual movements.

How are they treated in school? Are they accepted in school?  How do the parents manage their children?  How do the children feel about it?

My conversations with educators, doctors and parents often have one common denominator, that our education system can be toxic for our children with disabilities.

It is opined to be toxic because the experience of students with disabilities with school professionals and their peers can be quite negative.  Anecdotal accounts of parents are consistent with such experiences. Schools often provide a cursory approach as there is no place for compulsory education of disability awareness in the school’s curriculum.

What we need is for the authorities to make disability awareness in schools compulsory and provide the schools with adequate training and resources. Disability awareness is important and we have to start right at the beginning if we want our children to live in a better place.

Read the shortened published version of his letter here.

Nicholas Aw is the President of the Disabled People’s Association. He is a lawyer who has Tourette Syndrome. 

Disablist Bullying at Schools

By Jorain Ng

The connection between bullying and disability is rarely talked about in Singapore.

The flurry of articles on bullying (and more recently cyberbullying) at schools do not focus on disablism – the bullying or discrimination against persons with disabilities. Yet, there are much anecdotal accounts testifying to its existence at schools.

Personal Experience

As a child, I had my fair share of bullying, just like others who look different and/or behave differently from the masses.

I can vividly recall days when a classmate hid her arm in a pinafore to imitate my physical appearance. Simple actions such as tying my hair also attracted unwanted attention from my classmate who made physical gestures behind my back. Even back home, I was not safe from bullies. Online, I received anonymous comments on my blog (blog was still a thing back then) like, “you have no arm. hahaha.”

Looking back, these incidents are no more than childish pranks done by kids who were being, well, kids.

But, to a young child, such incidents can be emotionally traumatising.

The Situation in Singapore

Two boys pulling the hair of a girlSadly, my experience is not uncommon.

In Singapore today, bullying is as rampant as it was back then.

As a matter of fact, studies show that the advent of technology only made bullying worse. According to a 2012 survey conducted by Microsoft, Singapore has the second highest rate of online bullying. A 2013 Touch Cyber Wellness Survey of 1,900 primary school students and 3,000 secondary school pupils revealed that one in three of the latter population had been bullied online.

The scary news does not end there.

Many studies have demonstrated that children with disabilities are significantly more likely than their peers to be victims of bullying. A British study conducted in 2008 found that 60 percent of students with disabilities reported being bullied compared to 25 percent of the general student population. 10 U.S. studies also found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their peers without disabilities.

Disablist Bullying Consequences

The effects of bullying in relation to the emotional well-being, self-esteem, health condition, academic achievement and retaliatory violence of victims have all been well documented. Children who are bullied may suffer from depression and anxiety, and develop negative self-perceptions and health issues. Some victims also perform poorly in school due to difficulties concentrating during lessons, school avoidance or absences.

But there are unique concerns regarding disablist bullying.

Children with disabilities and/or special needs often have great difficulty defending themselves against bullies. Those who have physical disabilities such as wheelchair users and people with cerebral palsy may lack the physical strength to defend themselves. Bullies may tamper with a student’s wheelchair or walking stick, intentionally put up barriers, making movement around space difficult, or intentionally bump into them.

Children with developmental disabilities may also face difficulty defending themselves. Some may lack the cognitive ability to distinguish between real friends and bullies.

Disablist Bullying Prevention

Since so much bullying takes place while children are at school, teachers and administrators must take an active role in preventing bullying.

Other than bullying awareness programs, disability awareness talks should be conducted at schools to foster an attitude of respect for persons with disabilities. Teachers must also be equipped with the training and tools to recognise and quickly intervene in bullying situations. Schools can also create an online portal for students to give feedback – a particularly helpful feature for students who are afraid to speak up for themselves at schools.

Since children with disabilities are the most vulnerable targets, parents of these children can help to prevent bullying by communicating with their child. They should ask specific questions about his or her friendships, and be aware of signs of bullying even if their child doesn’t call it that. As mentioned above, some children with developmental disabilities may not realise they are being bullied.

Parents of bullied children must work with schools to end bullying. They need to immediately inform his or her teachers about the bullying to see whether he or she can help to resolve the problem. If the bullying or harassment is severe or the teacher doesn’t fix the problem, parents should contact the principal. They should give the principal a detailed account of the incident and ask for a prompt response.

Conclusion

Bullying is a bad thing. As Singapore move towards an inclusive education system where all children with and without disabilities can learn and play together, incidents of disablist bullying may rise in proportion.

But if schools and parents work together at all levels, there can be a resolution to bullying. I recently heard of a story where a young boy was physically harassed by his classmates because one of his parents has a disability. His parents informed his teacher about the bullying, and the teacher spoke to the bullies and their parents. The bullying stopped, and the bullies were sent to do volunteer work at social service organisations.

Integrated system can be win-win for all students

Straits Times Forum, 26 January 2015 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) thanks Mrs Padmini Kesavapany for her comments on mainstreaming children with special needs (“Kids with special needs: Modified curriculum not the answer”; last Thursday).

We recognise that there are not enough allied educators, but the current lack of resources does not mean that an integrated national education system cannot work.

As mentioned in our previous letters (“Help kids with special needs fit into mainstream”; Jan 17, and “Special education schools should be part of national system”; Forum Online, Oct 18, 2014), introducing modified curricula will not add more burden to the mainstream teachers’ workload. These modified curricula could be taught at specialised classes by specialised teachers within mainstream schools.

It must also be noted that the DPA is not saying that it is the duty of mainstream teachers to develop a modified curriculum. This is best left to the Ministry of Education and Special Education teachers who have the expertise and knowledge.

At present, two international schools – Dover Court International and Integrated International – are trying out this curriculum strategy for integration and they seem to be working well.

Through their supportive education programmes, students with special needs are integrated as much as possible into the mainstream schools where they learn and play together with their mainstream peers.

And both schools have specialised classes that cater to those with special needs.

The DPA is not advocating an education system that is “one size fits all”. The DPA works with a diverse group of people with different disabilities, and recognises that no one type of learning would suit them all.

The DPA is confident that an integrated education system can work and will benefit all students with and without special needs.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)

Executive Director

Disabled People’s Association

Help kids with special needs fit into mainstream

Straits Times Forum, 17 January 2015 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association disagrees with some of the points raised by Dr Richard Kwok (“Kids with dyslexia can thrive in specialist school”; Jan 7) and Mrs Padmini Kesavapany (“Problem with integrating kids with special needs into mainstream”; Forum Online, Tuesday).

We support integrating children with special needs and/or learning difficulties in mainstream schools, as this is in the long-term interest of all children.

Yet, this should be done on a case-by-case basis and only when it is in the best interest of the child, and when there is a robust support structure in place and the schools are able to accommodate their needs.

Mainstream schools have the potential to help children with special needs to flourish, but they require more support in order to do so.

Currently, allied educators help those with special needs in the classroom and there is specialised training for teachers. However, there are not enough allied educators despite the Ministry of Education’s efforts to recruit and train more of them.

Teachers find it difficult to cope with the needs of those who require more help, on top of their existing teaching duties.

The ministry could consider introducing a modified curriculum in mainstream schools for children with mild to moderate special needs. In this way, these children can still receive the benefits of mainstream education, but at a different pace and in a manner that best suits their learning styles.

Special education schools have the expertise to accommodate a wide range of special needs and are the right option for those with more severe disabilities.

We need to bear in mind, however, the effect that attending a special education school will have on that child’s prospects of further education or open employment.

Ultimately, an integrated national education system will benefit all children. Given that the job market today requires formal certifications, mainstream education will enhance the employability of persons with special needs.

It also provides opportunities for meaningful social interaction among a diverse student body. This will undoubtedly promote an inclusive society based on mutual respect and rights.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)

Executive Director

Disabled People’s Association

One Education System for All

Dear readers, I have decided to change the format of my blog entry today.

This is my position paper on special education.

I invite any reader who discovers a problem with my argument to point it out to me in the comment section. I would be sincerely grateful to have different perspectives on this subject.


ONE EDUCATION SYSTEM FOR ALL

by Jorain Ng

A lady in her mid-thirties with moderate autism paces around her parent’s house aimlessly, sometimes speaking and shouting to no one in particular. With no educational degree or certificates, the lady remains unemployed. To care for her daughter’s daily needs, her mother left her job and became a fulltime homemaker. Now in their late sixties, her parents constantly worry about their daughter’s future well-being. This is a very disheartening scenario, and one that occurs to many Singaporean families who were unable to send their children to school.

In the recent years, the educational opportunities for children with disabilities have been steadily improving. With the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 18 August 2013 and the introduction of the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, the Singapore government, in particular the Ministry of Education (MOE), has started to take on more roles in the governance of Special Education (SPED), and worked closely with the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) and the SPED schools to enhance the quality of the curriculum, pedagogy, and professionals of SPED. [1] Such efforts are commendable but access to education remains a problem for children with disabilities. Due to their automatic exemption from Singapore’s Compulsory Education (CE) Act, the education rights of these children are left unprotected. [2] To guarantee and protect their right to education, this paper argues for the need to extend CE to children with disabilities, placing SPED under the ultimate governance of MOE.

Qualified, not Automatic Exemption

Opponents of legislation would argue that this model of education is educationally inappropriate and impractical. In her letter to Singapore’s newspaper, the Straits Times, Mrs Loke-Yeo Teck Yong, Director of the Education Services Division from MOE, contended that “we cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach, especially for students with special needs, who have a broad and diverse range of needs.”[3] She also pointed out that “it may be overly harsh on both caretakers and the child [with severe multiple disabilities and medical conditions] to enforce the CE Act on them. They may be better served by home-based education and care.”[4]

It seems, however, that this argument misunderstands how CE would be applied to children with disabilities. Granted, the disabled minority have varying functional and productivity levels; no one type of learning would suit them all. But there is no reason why MOE taking a greater governance role in SPED would mean that the needs of these children would not be catered for. Currently, there are already a number of children with disabilities in mainstream schools, and Allied Educators work closely with teachers to support them.[5] In this way, MOE already cares for those with different learning styles, and thus does not run a “one-size-fits-all” education system.

Moreover, legislation does not negate the possibility of exemption for those truly unable to attend schools. Currently, an exemption clause is already in place for children intended for home-schooling and religious schools.[6] Legislation would place children with disabilities under the same clause, and require parents or caregivers to satisfy certain MOE requirements before applying to the Compulsory Education Unit for a certificate for exemption. In this way, exemptions are not automatic but qualified. So those with more severe disabilities could apply for exemptions from CE in the same way any home-schooled student would.

Issue of Enrolment

Another point of contention lies in the necessity of introducing legislation when other issues have yet to be resolved. In the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and other stakeholders decided that legislation “may not be the only solution” and that “it is even more important for government, NCSS and education service providers to address other barriers to accessing special education, such as parental education, professional capacity and resources.”[7]

But this argument glosses over the fact that not all children with disabilities would have the opportunity to benefit from these improvements in the education system. Increased professional capacity and resources often do not trickle down to the broad masses. Despite the collaborative effort made by MSF (then known as the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports), NCSS and other parties in the disability sector in expanding the capacity of the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) up to 40% over the last few years, the waiting list for places remain long.[8] “EIPIC currently serve only about 40% of the 2000 children who are diagnosed with moderate to severe developmental delays each year.”[9] Thus the more pressing issue to be addressed should be enrolment. If CE was extended to children with disabilities, there would be a legal responsibility for the Government to ensure that they have a place in an educational institution, be it a mainstream school or SPED school. It is hard to imagine other solutions to this long-standing issue.

Limitations of Current SPED Model

Related to the issue of enrolment is the governance of SPED schools. Historically, all SPED schools have been independently run by Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs). The Pathlight School and Metta School, for examples, are run by the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and Metta Welfare Association respectively.[10] The board of these VWOs and the school management committees currently make decisions on how SPED schools are to be run.[11]

Despite all the good work done by everyone involved in special education, there seems no question that the current SPED model suffers from several limitations. According to the Enabling Masterplan:

the lack of homogeneity in the SPED model has created unevenness in the quality of education across different SPED schools as well as impediments for special education to progress on strategic issues such as manpower development and curriculum. There are strong ground sentiments from professionals to reform the leadership structure with greater ownership by MOE to complement the strengths of the VWOs.[12]

Parents expressed a similar desire to have greater support from the Government in terms of supervision over SPED schools. In 2003, a survey of parents revealed that “96% of 2,489 parents of special needs children were in favour of compulsory education.”[13]

Benefits of Extending CE

The long term benefits of extending CE to children with disabilities must be highlighted. Firstly, formal education will enhance the employability of persons with disabilities. The open job market today requires formal certification. This makes it necessary for persons with disabilities to obtain educational degrees and certificates equally with others in order to complete and be part of the workforce. Considering that persons with disabilities suffer from disproportionally higher rates of unemployment due to discrimination, this becomes all the more important.[14] In the long run, the negative impact of the unemployment of persons with disabilities on gross domestic product will be reduced.[15]

Secondly, an integrated national education system will create more opportunities for meaningful interaction, which will help promote an inclusive society based on mutual respect and rights. By integrating SPED into national education, all schools will be under the same governing body, making it easier for institutions to engage in cross campus activities. So students from SPED schools could visit their neighbouring mainstream schools to share physical facilities, play and even learn together. There are currently two SPED schools – Pathlight School and Canossian School – involved in such satellite partnerships with mainstream schools.[16] Known as the Satellite School Model, this good practice should be encouraged. Regular interaction between students with disabilities and their typically developing peers will encourage and instil in children the mindset of inclusion from young, and educate children to appreciate and respect others for their differences.

Students’ Education is Ministry’s Responsibility

For readers still unconvinced, we need only consider the symbolic meaning of having SPED under the purview of welfare organizations rather than the MOE. The clear separation in governance implies that the education of children with disabilities is a matter of welfare, when really all students’ education is the ministry’s responsibility.

Conclusion

For all the reasons listed above, I believe that MOE can and should play a bigger role and responsibility by integrating SPED schools into the national education system. This requires the enforcement of the Compulsory Education (CE) Act on children with disabilities, which will place SPED under the ultimate governance of the ministry. Let’s not forget that children with disabilities are, like their typically developing peers, full-fledged Singaporean citizens deserving of equal treatment.


Endnotes

[1] The term “special education schools” are commonly used to refer to school systems that only receive students with impairments as opposed to “mainstream schools” that receive students with or without impairments. Teck Yong, Loke-Yeo, “Special Education Can’t Be One Size Fits All,” Straits Times, October 10, 2014, http://www.straitstimes.com/archive/saturday/premium/forum-letters/story/special-education-cant-be-one-size-fits-all-20141011 (accessed October 20, 2014); See also Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan Steering Committee, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, 2012, p. 32.

[2] I recognize that there is no barrier to access, but rather that access remains limited because there is no legal responsibility for MOE to ensure that all children with disabilities are placed in an educational institution. Ministry of Education, “Compulsory Education: Exemptions,” Ministry of Education, Singapore, http://www.moe.gov.sg/initiatives/compulsory-education/exemptions/ (accessed October 20, 2014).

[3] Teck Yong, “Special Education Can’t Be One Size Fits All,” October 10, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ministry of Education, “MOE to Provide Greater Support for Special Education,” Ministry of Education, Singapore, March 10, 2010, http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2010/03/moe-to-provide-greater-support.php (accessed October 20, 2014).

[6] Ministry of Education, “Compulsory Education: Exemptions,” http://www.moe.gov.sg/initiatives/compulsory-education/exemptions/.

[7] Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, pp. 34-5.

[8] Ibid., p. 14.

[9] “Child Development Programme Statistics of Children Diagnosed with Developmental Delays,” in Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, p. 9.

[10] Ministry of Education, “List of Special Education Schools,” Ministry of Education, Singapore http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/special-education/schoollist/ (accessed 20 October 2014).

[11] Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, p. 33.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Jessie Ee. (2003). Attitudes of parents on compulsory education for special needs in Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, p. 34.

[14] United Nations, General Assembly, Thematic study on the right of persons with disabilities to education: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/25/29 (18 December 2013), available from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disability/Pages/ThematicStudies.aspx, p. 5

[15] Sebastian Buckup, “The price of exclusion: The economic consequences of excluding people with disabilities from the world of work”, Employment Working Paper, No. 43 (ILO, 2009) in United Nations, Thematic Study on the right of persons with disabilities to education, p. 5.

[16] Pathlight School, “Secondary School,” Pathlight, http://www.pathlight.org.sg/programmes/secondary-school (accessed October 20, 2014); Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, p. 38.


Bibliography

Ministry of Social and Family Development, Enabling Masterplan Steering Committee. Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016. 2012.

Ministry of Education. “Compulsory Education: Exemptions.” Ministry of Education, Singapore. http://www.moe.gov.sg/initiatives/compulsory-education/exemptions/ (accessed October 20, 2014).

Ministry of Education. “MOE to Provide Greater Support for Special Education,” Ministry of Education, Singapore. March 10, 2010, http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2010/03/moe-to-provide-greater-support.php (accessed October 20, 2014).

Pathlight School. “Secondary School.” Pathlight. http://www.pathlight.org.sg/programmes/secondary-school (accessed October 20, 2014).

Teck Yong, Loke-Yeo. “Special Education Can’t Be One Size Fits All.” Straits Times, October 10, 2014, http://www.straitstimes.com/archive/saturday/premium/forum-letters/story/special-education-cant-be-one-size-fits-all-20141011.

United Nations, General Assembly. Thematic study on the right of persons with disabilities to education: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. A/HRC/25/29 (18 December 2013), available from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disability/Pages/ThematicStudies.aspx.

Special education schools should be part of national system

Straits Times Forum, 18 October 2014 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) thanks the Ministry of Education (MOE) for addressing its concerns about the exemption of children with disabilities from the Compulsory Education Act (“Special education can’t be ‘one size fits all‘”; last Saturday).

We are not proposing that education should be “one size fits all”; rather, there should be one education system that accommodates the needs of all children here.

The DPA works with a diverse group of people with different disabilities, and recognises that no one type of learning would suit them all.

Special education schools have the expertise to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities and help them flourish, and should continue to have an integral role in Singapore’s education system, regardless of whether the MOE takes a larger governance role over them.

To reiterate the DPA’s position, we believe that children with disabilities should not be automatically exempted from compulsory education to attend special education schools. Instead, such schools should be, in some way, part of the national education system, under the ultimate governance of the MOE.

In that way, there would be no need to exempt these children from compulsory education. Those with more severe disabilities could apply for exemptions in the same way any home-schooled student would.

There is no reason why the MOE taking a greater governance role in special education would mean that the needs of children with disabilities would not be catered for.

As it is, there are a number of children with special needs in national schools, and allied educators work with teachers to support them in mainstream classes.

In this way, the MOE already cares for those with various learning styles and does not run a “one size fits all” education system.

The application of compulsory education to all children in Singapore does not mean education has to be homogenised.

The DPA is confident that the MOE can extend the national education system to welcome special education schools into that community in the future, and become one system that accommodates all children’s needs.

If MOE would like further clarification on DPA’s position or to work together to start a dialogue on how special education can be integrated into national education, we would be more than happy to do so.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)
Executive Director
Disabled People’s Association

MOE can take on larger role in special education

Straits Times Forum, 9 October 2014 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association (DPA) agrees with the points raised by Mr Wee Yeong Wei (“It’s about the kids with special needs“; last Saturday) and Mrs Leaena Tambyah (“Kids with special needs have right to education“; Tuesday).

We also agree that children with disabilities should not be automatically exempted from the Compulsory Education Act.

Although more can be done to improve the educational opportunities for children with disabilities, it is important to acknowledge what is currently being done by the Government.

We appreciate that the Ministry of Education (MOE) has started to take greater ownership over special education, working with special education (Sped) schools to develop their curricula to have markers for ensuring that the students show development from year to year.

The MOE has also been upgrading the accessibility of mainstream schools to accommodate more children with disabilities.

The ministry, along with the National Council of Social Service, provides funding for Sped schools to help with the higher cost of accommodating some special needs.

Although children with disabilities are automatically exempted from compulsory education, in practice most of them are enrolled either in mainstream schools or Sped schools.

However, there are long waiting lists for places in Sped schools. If all children with disabilities were not automatically exempted from compulsory education, there would be a legal responsibility for the Government to ensure they have a place in an educational institution, be it a mainstream school or Sped school.

One unexpected issue that arises from automatic exemption from compulsory education is how one deals with truancy at Sped schools. Because of the exemption, there is no real legal recourse for Sped schools when children fail to attend classes. If the child is covered by compulsory education and fails to attend school, his parent/guardian may be guilty of an offence.

The DPA hopes the MOE will continue to take on more roles in the governance of Sped schools, not because all such schools necessarily need greater supervision, but because all students’ education should be the ministry’s responsibility.

Despite all the good work of everyone involved in special education, one should consider the symbolic meaning of having the education of many of those with disabilities being taken care of largely by welfare organisations rather than the MOE.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)
Executive Director
Disabled People’s Association

MOE has responded here.

What disabled students need

Straits Times Forum, 12 February 2014 (print edition)

THE Disabled People’s Association lauds the Singapore Management University’s initiative to support students with disabilities (“SMU to make life easier for disabled students”; last Saturday).

Diversity on our campuses should encompass disabled students.

We commend the faculty and staff at local institutes of higher learning who go the extra mile to support such students. Inclusion and acceptance by their peers play an important part too.

We have received anecdotal accounts from disabled students of their struggles with accessibility, communication and social support.

Their difficulties are not caused by their disabilities per se but in getting access to appropriate help, and are aggravated by the fragmented, ad hoc nature of existing support systems.

Sometimes, understanding and assistance were not forthcoming, and the students ended up having to figure out solutions on their own or footing the cost of the required services or facilities themselves.

In contrast, those who studied overseas have given feedback on how they benefited from the comprehensive range of free services provided by the institutions’ dedicated disability departments.

For example, note-takers or sign language interpreters are provided for deaf undergraduates in Australia. In Britain, visual and vibrating alarms are installed in the dormitory rooms of deaf students, in case of emergencies, as they sleep without wearing their hearing aids.

This is something our institutes of higher learning can emulate – a structured support system, clear and established procedures, and readily available facilities and services for students with disabilities to tap when needed.

Lastly, besides ensuring that the physical environment is accessible to students with physical disabilities, institutes of higher learning should take into account the needs of students with other disabilities such as visual impairment, hearing impairment, mental illness and autism, as well as those with multiple disabilities.

The assistance they require might be less obvious or concrete in nature, but is no less essential.

The various disability organisations, including the Disabled People’s Association, will be happy to work with institutes of higher learning on this.

Alvan Yap
Advocacy Executive
Disabled People’s Association