#ChallengeAccepted Special Education
📸:Children at the opening of Chin Pu Centre (Geylang), the third training centre of SARC at Sims Avenue, 1966 (Source: National Archives Singapore)
Compulsory education was implemented in Singapore in 2003 to ensure that every child gets the foundation of a primary school education. But what about children with special needs? How to include children with different abilities when their needs are so diverse?
#ChallengeAccepted. By developing “Enabling Masterplans” that guide the government and community with coherent roadmaps to transform Singapore into a more caring and inclusive society.
Children with special needs were educated in a haphazard way during Singapore’s early years. For example, in 1947, voluntary organisations such as the Trafalgar Home provided education to children with leprosy. In 1951, the British Red Cross Society provided education for the deaf. It was only in 1962, when the Singapore Association for Retarded Children was formed (later renamed as Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore), that education came to those with intellectual disabilities. By 1988, there were 11 special schools run by seven voluntary welfare organisations in Singapore.
The turning point came in 2004, when PM Lee Hsien Loong called for a more inclusive society in his inauguration speech. He said, “As we prosper, all communities will progress and no one will be left behind… and we must also have a place in our hearts and our lives for the disabled, who are our brothers and sisters too.”
Special education became a significant thread in the First Enabling Masterplan (2007 - 2011), a roadmap to advance Singapore’s vision of becoming an inclusive society. Key recommendations that were implemented for special education included greater integration between mainstream and special education school systems, and increased funding of support services. The Second Enabling Masterplan (2012 - 2016) built on the earlier initiatives, and recommended extending the Compulsory Education Act to children with special needs: so that they too can get a firm foundation for further education, as well as common school experiences for national identity and social cohesion.
In Nov 2016, in a significant move towards greater national inclusiveness, access to mainstream education was extended to children with special educational needs, and was implemented by 2019.
By 2020, about 80% of children with special educational needs attended mainstream schools while about 20% attended special education schools. As of Sep 2022, there were 22 publicly-funded special education schools led by 12 social service agencies. As then-Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said in 2016, “… every child matters, regardless of his or her learning challenges.” As learning opportunities become more readily accessible to children with special needs, we are one step closer to becoming a more inclusive society.