SINGAPORE: Three new schools for students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will be set up over the next few years, with the first one accepting pupils in 2021, Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah announced on Friday (Nov 8).
Acknowledging the growing demand for places in such schools Ms Indranee said the new schools will help to improve the accessibility of special education and ensure all children with moderate-to-severe special education needs will be able to receive a quality education.
Speaking at the ExtraOrdinary Celebration Concert on Friday, she said: “Even as we celebrate our progress, we must never stop trying to improve our system, so that our children can learn in educational settings that cater to their needs, and grow up in a society where everyone can thrive.”
The first school, operated by Metta Welfare Association, will provide about 25 places per cohort. This translates to about 300 places for students between 7 and 18 years old with moderate-to-severe special education needs with both ASD and intellectual disabilities.
The new school’s campus, which will be located in the east of Singapore, will be ready in 2024. Until then, students will have lessons at the current Metta School campus in Simei starting in 2021.
The other two schools will deliver the primary and secondary national curriculum as well as a suitable post-primary programme for students who are unable to access the national secondary curriculum, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) in a separate media release.
One of these schools will be a new Pathlight School campus, which will be run by the Autism Resource Centre (ARC), said Ms Indranee. This will be Pathlight’s third campus, with the first in Ang Mo Kio, and the second one in Tampines announced earlier this year.
For the other school, MOE will conduct a limited invitation for proposals, similar to what was done for the school to be set up by Metta Welfare Association.
SPECIAL EDUCATION SCHOOLS TO LOWER FEES
Six special education (SPED) schools will also lower their fees by at least 25 per cent for Singapore citizens from January 2020, said Ms Indranee.
The six schools are Eden School, Grace Orchard School, Pathlight School, Rainbow Centre - Margaret Drive School, Rainbow Centre - Yishun Park School, and St Andrew’s Autism School.
Noting that funding for special education schools has increased by about 40 per cent over the past five years, Ms Indranee said: “As we know, SPED can be costly due to the higher needs and resources. While SPED financial assistance is available to the lower income, we recognise that for families of children with SEN (special education needs), SPED fees add to the other costs they already have to bear.”
According to MOE, 80 per cent of students with special education needs are enrolled in mainstream schools.
To ensure these schools “remain inclusive, safe and accommodating” for students with special education needs, MOE has introduced two intervention programmes that focus on peer support, said Ms Indranee.
MOE said these intervention programmes equip students to help schoolmates with special education needs who may require social or emotional support, and “work with them to overcome their specific areas of difficulties.
MOE noted that some schools have implemented the two programmes over the past few years with “positive outcomes”, leading to the decision to extend these programmes to all mainstream schools over the next few years.
“Training will be provided to relevant school personnel, to enable them to implement these intervention programmes in their schools,” said MOE in the release.
READ: The Big Read - Where kids with and without special needs learn together - and it's not in Singapore
Ms Indranee stressed the need to create an inclusive system, where all are seen as integral members of society.
“Many have spoken of how the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable. It also reflects on who we are as individuals, whether we have the empathy and the maturity to see every person for who they are, and not through the lens only of what they can or cannot do,” she said.
“These may sound like lofty ideals, but if we look around us, our children are already showing the way with their open and big hearts, coming together like today to create wonderful outcomes.”