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More help for special needs children

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MOE accepts recommendations on how compulsory education can be implemented for children with special needs

Parents of children with special needs will receive more guidance at the pre-primary level in choosing suitable schools, as part of recommendations by an advisory panel.

Those who need home-schooling or are deemed unsuitable to attend national primary schools - including special education ones - could be exempted from attending publicly funded schools, despite compulsory education kicking in.

The Ministry of Education yesterday accepted the recommendations of the panel that was set up to study how compulsory education can be implemented for children with special needs.

Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced in November last year that starting from 2019, children with moderate to severe special needs will need to attend publicly-funded schools unless they apply for an exemption.

MOE said that it will work towards implementing the recommendations from 2019. It said it will ensure that Singaporean children with moderate to severe special needs can access learning in a suitable special education school.

It will also provide more support for parents at the pre-primary level to choose schools that meet their children's educational needs.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State for Education and chairman of the advisory panel, said that the panel kept in mind two key principles: All Singaporean children should be supported in the appropriate educational settings for their needs, and parents have the primary responsibility for ensuring their child attends school.

The panel said MOE should strengthen existing platforms and processes to support parents in obtaining a diagnosis for their child and making decisions about placement.

To get exemption for home-schooling, parents are to propose an individualised educational plan, based on MOE's guidelines, and submit progress reports and be open to home visits. For those deemed unsuitable to attend national primary schools, parents need to justify why their child's needs cannot be met in such schools.

Those in the special education sector said more guidance will help parents to make better decisions.

Mr Victor Tay, immediate past president of the Association for Persons with Special Needs, said: "There is a perception among parents that special education schools are not as good. Many parents prefer their child to stay in mainstream schools... but if the child is not suited for that environment, it can break their confidence."

He added that screening is important, adding: "Hopefully we see a greater pool of students being more accurately played in the correct settings and have fewer transitions during their school years."

He wants the pool of special education teachers widened and special education schools made more accessible so that less well-off families need not travel too far.

Lien Foundation chief executive Lee Poh Wah said it hopes compulsory education "can create new channels of cooperation between mainstream and special education schools, for instance, in the area of teacher training".

Mainstream schools should also be equipped with more specialised support such as educational psychologists and occupational therapists, he said.