MOE hopes to attract more special education teachers
From 2019, children with moderate to severe special needs will need to attend a Government-funded school, just like other children. TNP speaks to a special education teacher who says she only ever wanted to teach children with special needs
When friends find out she is a special education (Sped) teacher, they tell her she is patient, giving and selfless.
But Madam Nur Faezah Abdul Rahman, 32, simply brushes such comments aside.
Instead, she sees her job as a great learning opportunity, she said.
Madam Faezah, who has been in the Sped field for a decade, is an example of the kind of people the Ministry of Education (MOE) hopes to attract.
From 2019, children with special needs will also come under the Compulsory Education Act and must attend any of the 20 government-funded special education schools here unless they apply for an exemption.
Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State for Education, told The New Paper: "If we can attract more teachers to be Sped teachers, that would be very good. It's a very specialised set of skills and it's a lot of hard work.
"So you need the right kind of people for this job. So far, we have been able to do just that. But this is one of the challenges - making sure we continue to attract the right kind of people in the pipeline."
Madam Faezah, a teacher at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School (CPASS), said she has never thought of teaching in a mainstream school.
She will be pursuing a Master of Education (Special Education) under an MOE Masters Scholarship in Special Education so she can learn about curriculum development.
She was speaking to The New Paper before the Sped conference held at Resorts World Convention Centre yesterday.
She said: "In a way, being a Sped teacher is a blessing. I don't think I will be able to manage a class of 40, with different demands from parents.
"I'd rather help out children with special educational needs (SEN) to help them cope."
Madam Faezah started out in the first batch of 30 allied educators (AED) in 2005.
Then a fresh IT polytechnic graduate, she stumbled upon the AED position during her job search.
"I had basic knowledge (of Sped). My cousin has mild autism. I thought it was something new and would be interesting to try," she said.
Seven years as an AED flew by before she considered applying to be a Sped teacher.
Madam Faezah said: "It took me a year before I decided to apply at a Sped school. I was comfortable being an AED, but the fact that I thought about it for a whole year... I thought I should really go for it."
Working in CPASS, which accepts children with multiple disabilities, helped Madam Faezah learn to not brush off any child's learning ability.
"In a complex body, there's a hidden potential waiting to be uncovered. We must always presume that every child can learn, even if it's something simple like recognising numbers and pictures.
"At least they are learning, even if it's small steps," she said.
"I know that realistically, it's impossible to expect every student to be verbal in a Sped school. But that's what makes teaching here unique."
Madam Faezah also reminds herself to count her blessings every day.
"The fact that I'm born without disabilities, I'm already thankful.
"Some of my students are physically disabled, but they are moving forward. There's no reason for me not to fight on, to do my best too," she said.
Minister: This is a step towards more inclusive society
Singapore's special educational needs (SEN) landscape has changed over the years, thanks to efforts by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and various voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to make special education (Sped) affordable, accessible, and of quality, said Dr Janil Puthucheary.
Also in place are measures to support children with mild SEN in mainstream schools, the Minister of State for Education added.
Against this backdrop, Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced the inclusion of children with moderate to severe SEN under the Compulsory Education framework yesterday.
This takes effect from the 2019 Primary 1 cohort.
Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary
He said: "This is a significant milestone in Singapore's move towards building a more inclusive society.
"It is heartening to see that, today, the majority of children with SEN are able to access education in mainstream or Sped schools.
"This move is possible with the strong partnership between the community and government.
"MOE will continue to work with the VWOs and parents to ensure that learning opportunities are accessible to all Singaporean children who are able to benefit from them."
Agreeing, Dr Janil told The New Paper: "We want to make sure that every child benefits from education.
"This is not something to be taken lightly. It's not a care arrangement, it's an education arrangement."
He will be chairing the advisory panel which will ensure that the implementation will best serve the needs of children with SEN.
In every cohort of about 1,770 children with special needs, a quarter have moderate to severe SEN.
Of that, about 40 children do not go to school.
Dr Janil said: "We want to get to know them and the challenges they face. For example, some have medical conditions so severe, they can't go to school. We want to make sure we can find places for all the 40 children. And to make sure these places are suitable for them."
Dr Victor Tay, the president of the Association for Persons with Special Needs, said this is a step towards inclusivity. Singapore is tolerant and aware at best, he told TNP.
Mrs Koh Ai Lay, principal of the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School, agreed and said the move also recognises that Sped schools can provide an education that caters to the specific needs of children with SEN.
She told TNP: "This would act as an impetus for some parents who may not see the need for an education for their child with special needs.
"There could also be parents who may be overwhelmed with family issues and not able to give priority to their child's education."
While we have a better supply of skilled Sped teachers through the National Institute of Education today, Dr Tay said that one of the challenges is changing societal perception of teaching in a Sped school.
MNC VS SME
Likening mainstream schools to multinational corporations (MNC) and Sped schools to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME), he said: "It's like MNC versus SME. Most would want to work in an MNC."
The career prospects of teaching in a mainstream school may also differ in a Sped school, said Dr Tay.
Dr Tay said: "A Sped school is a place that's intensive and manages behavioural challenges rather than intellectually stimulating teaching, and may not necessarily pay the best.
"We need to solve this perception issue, to let people understand that a Sped school is a place that's missionary, meaningful, and touches lives.
"Therein lies this challenge, to project Sped well, and give the right perception so that it can continue to attract the best and brightest."
"We want to make sure that every child benefits from education. This is not something to be taken lightly. It's not a care arrangement, it's an education arrangement."
- Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary
Who is affected?
From 2019, children with moderate to severe special educational needs (SEN) will be included under the Compulsory Education Act. We look at what it's all about.
WHAT IS NEW?
Every year, a quarter of some 1,770 children with SEN are exempted from compulsory education. They will soon have to attend publicly funded schools, just like other children.
WHO WILL BE AFFECTED?
Children with moderate to severe SEN who are above six years old and below 15 years old. Moderate to severe SEN include intellectual disabilities and autism.
WHEN WILL THIS BE IMPLEMENTED?
The changes will take place from the 2019 Primary 1 cohort. This means the initiative will start with the Primary 1 registration exercise in 2018.
HOW WILL IT BE IMPLEMENTED?
An advisory panel, chaired by Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary, will be appointed to discuss how best to include children with moderate to severe SEN under this framework.
The panellists, who will be revealed at a later date, could range from school leaders to people from the public healthcare sector.