SINGAPORE: A workgroup involving the public and private sectors will be set up to help make pre-schools more inclusive, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee announced on Wednesday (Apr 10).
Speaking at NTUC’s My First Skool campus in Punggol, where he observed children with developmental delays having their lessons, Mr Lee said that while pilot mainstream pre-schools are already becoming more inclusive, MSF wants to take inclusion one step further.
“We want to study how we can better support children with mild to moderate, moderate to severe needs in our mainstream preschools,” he said.
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will also oversee early intervention services for pre-schoolers, taking over from its parent ministry, MSF, progressively from July this year.
These initiatives build on efforts announced in January this year by Mr Lee to make early intervention services more affordable and customised to each child's needs, MSF said.
READ: MSF to enhance early intervention framework; more support for children with developmental needs
The workgroup will study the experiences of centres which serve children with moderate to severe developmental needs, to develop approaches that may be extended to more pre-schools, MSF said.
“This will also give typically developing children in more pre-schools the opportunity to gain greater understanding and appreciation of children who may be different from themselves,” a spokesperson said.
Developmental needs refer to developmental conditions ranging from physical issues to sensory issues and cognitive issues to learning needs without accompanying disabilities.
The workgroup will be co-chaired by MSF's Senior Parliamentary Secretary Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and National Institute of Education Associate Dean for Education Research Kenneth Poon.
Having ECDA oversee pre-school services and early intervention services is expected to improve coordination of early childhood development and support services, MSF added.
“Having these services under ECDA will give the agency a holistic view of the learning and developmental needs of all children under the age of seven,” MSF said.
All early intervention services, which help children with skills like social communication, speech and language and handwriting, will come under ECDA by 2020.
The Disability Office within the MSF currently oversees the provision of early intervention services and works with partners like hospitals and Voluntary Welfare Organisations to detect developmental needs in children early.
Mrs Phoon Chew Ping, group child support officer at NTUC First Campus, said that such integration is likely to benefit the children because programmes can focus better on a child’s needs, with their pre-school learning and developmental needs being managed by the same agency.
“That’s how we feel it works for us. We look at the child, that’s why we call it the child support model. Whether the child needs financial support, social support, learning support, we will pull it together,” she said.