Singapore Government has formed a 17 member panel, which will look after the implementation of compulsory education for children with moderate to severe special needs. The panel consists of experts from diverse fields including leaders, educators in special education (SPED) and doctors.
The panel has been appointed as furtherance to the Government’s announcement last month that the Compulsory Education Act would be extended to this group of children from 2019. Currently, children with moderate to severe special needs are exempted from compulsory education.
The panel will be headed by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Communications and Information. It also includes Nominated Member of Parliament and President of the Society for the Physically Disabled Chia Yong Yong, Senior Consultant and Head at the National University Hospital Child Development Unit Dr Chong Shang Chee and Suzana Soo, Principal at Minds Lee Kong Chian Gardens School.
Dr Puthucheary said, “The work ahead of the panel will not be easy. We need to look at the finer details of implementing compulsory education so that we can appreciate concerns and operational difficulties, and think through what are the best solutions for our children.”
Commenting on the development, Gayathri Ramaswami, Co-founder of All Hands Together a company, which works with kids with special needs said, "Children with special needs, regardless of severity, are still children and should therefore not be treated any differently. My desire and long term vision is that we will eventually have inclusive schools where all children grow and learn together and there may be special compensations made to accommodate children with more severe needs. But they still get to experience school the same way other children do."
The panel will interact with various stakeholder groups including SPED schools, educators, parents and Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) to gather feedback. The panel will make recommendations in the areas of exemption from Compulsory Education, and placement of children with special education needs in appropriate educational settings. The Panel is expected to present its recommendations by end of 2017.
There are now about 1,770 children with special educational needs in each cohort, according to the Ministry of Education (MOE). 75 per cent of them who have mild special needs such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, already attend mainstream schools.
The remaining 25 per cent have moderate to severe special needs such as visual impairment, autism or multiple disabilities, and most of them attend one of the 20 government-funded SPED schools. But 10 per cent of this group, or about 40 children per cohort, do not go to such schools for various reasons, said the MOE. They could be home-schooled, enrolled in private schools, or impeded by physical or intellectual disabilities.
Member of Parliament Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education and is the president of Autism Resource Centre, will serve as vice-chair of the panel.
Phua said, “Education is an important stepping stone to a better life for every child. I look forward to a robust discussion with fellow panel members on how compulsory education can be implemented to best serve our children.”