Peer support vital for special-needs kids: Halimah
President Halimah Yacob praises Zhenghua Secondary's buddy system
Classmates Muhammad Aaron Irwan and Leroy Lim are always together in school.
Leroy, 13, helps bring Aaron his food during recess and assists him with his schoolwork when he is unable to catch up.
The two boys are also united by their common interest: playing the online mobile game Mobile Legends together.
Both are Secondary 2 students in Zhenghua Secondary School, and Leroy has been a designated buddy for over a year to Aaron - who suffers from muscular dystrophy.
The 16-year-old moves around in a wheelchair and is able to write for only 10 minutes before it gets too taxing.
Leroy said: "When I first started eating with him, we pretty much had nothing in common. As time went by, we started playing mobile games together, studying together and I was accompanying him wherever he goes. Our friendship then grew closer."
Speaking on a community engagement visit to Zhenghua Secondary School yesterday, President Halimah Yacob said that beyond school buildings and curriculum changes, peer-to-peer support was critical for students with special educational needs, like Aaron.
She commended the school's buddy system and pointed out that without the understanding and support of their friends, students with special educational needs would feel marginalised and isolated, and that, in turn, would impede their ability to integrate.
Zhenghua Secondary School is one of 35 mainstream secondary schools and junior colleges, including centralised institutes, that have been built or upgraded with facilities such as ramps and lifts for those with limited mobility.
The school also modifies its curriculum to accommodate the needs of students with physical disabilities, such as changing sports equipment so that wheelchair-bound students can take part.
Ms Judy Wee, senior manager at Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore, said that making the curriculum accessible for wheelchair-bound students is vital for inclusivity.
She noted that certain school subjects, such as science and home economics, require students to be hands-on, but the design of equipment and furniture in classrooms make it difficult for wheelchair-using students to be involved.
For instance, the high tabletops and kitchen stoves in home economics classrooms are often out of their reach and also make it dangerous for them to carry out some tasks like chopping ingredients or cooking.
Aaron has to watch from the sidelines while his classmates participate in such activities.
Mr Eugene Lin, the principal of Zhenghua Secondary School, said: "The school tries its best to get the students involved as much as possible.
"(In) those areas that are difficult to modify, they will be observers."
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