MOE should play bigger role in special education, says committee

SINGAPORE - The perennial calls for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to play a bigger role in the special education (SPED) sector have grown louder: Yesterday, the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016 steering committee made several proposals - among other recommendations - to that effect, including calling on the ministry to lead the governance of SPED schools and eventually make primary education compulsory for special needs children.

The masterplan recommended the setting up of "a governance structure led by MOE and supported by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), comprising representatives with proven track records from special and mainstream education, disability groups and families". The structure is to provide, among other things, leadership in policy and programmes and ensure the quality and proper selection of school leaders.

Under this proposed structure, a human resource steering committee could be set up to "promote the attraction, development and retention of professional staff".

Currently, the 20 SPED schools here are run by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and co-funded by the NCSS and MOE.

The masterplan also called on the MOE to "study and address the implications of including children with special needs within the Compulsory Education Act with the aim of including them under the Act by 2016".

It also recommended a "multi-pronged" approach to enhance integration, including looking at the limitations of allied educators in mainstream schools and to conduct an in-depth study of overseas integrated school models.

Metta School vice-principal Anuwar Abdul Wahab told Today if the recommendations are accepted by the Government, it would mark the country "moving towards a golden era", in terms of the SPED sector.

However, some parents suggested a case-by-case approach, should primary education be eventually made compulsory for children with special needs.

One of them, Ms Agnes Lau, said: "Compulsory education will be a push for fearful parents. But fees have to be affordable and integration into mainstream society must be there for parents to feel assured."

Autism Resource Centre president Denise Phua, who was on the Enabling Masterplan committee, noted that some service providers are concerned that the proposed compulsory education legislation may lead to punitive measures if they do not have the skilled manpower to handle complex cases. The Moulmein-Kallang GRC Member of Parliament suggested that issues related to enforcement be studied and addressed before the legislation is finalised.

In response to queries, an MOE spokesperson said that as part of the ongoing SPED sector review, it "is already working to address some of the recommendations" by the committee. The ministry will elaborate on its plans next month during its Committee of Supply Debate.

The spokesperson said: "MOE shares the vision of enabling persons with disabilities to maximise their potential and be integrated in our society. MOE is committed to progressively improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of special education over time."

Source: Today online

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