Ms Chia Yong Yong,
Dr Yek Tiew Ming,
Principal, ITE College East
Ms Jessica Tan
Manager Director, Microsoft Singapore
Ladies and gentlemen,
1. It is my pleasure to be here with you today. We may come from different walks of life and serve different functions, whether in education, business and technology, the government service or non-profit sector. However, we are joined by one common purpose, which is to advance the interests and wellbeing of persons with disabilities and to create an inclusive Singapore. We each play an important role in this journey. Over the years, we have worked together to put in place different initiatives, ranging from education to employment, to ensure that persons with disabilities have opportunities to become a contributing member of society – to interact and be integrated with the wider community, and to earn an income, have a career and be independent.
Education – Developing Students’ Potential
2. To realise their potential, students with special educational needs require access to education that will equip them with the knowledge and skills to pursue a productive and meaningful life. To this end, MOE continues to strengthen the support provided in their education journey, starting from the primary school years. For students with sensory and physical impairment, MOE makes available school-based services provided by Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs). Since June 2009, MOE has collaborated with two VWOs – Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA) and Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) to provide transition and itinerant support for students with physical and sensory impairments in mainstream schools. They assess the individual students’ learning needs and recommend the appropriate educational aids or services such as learning support, access arrangements or the use of assistive technology. They also conduct awareness talks for teachers to help them better understand the learning and social needs of these students.
3. Some of the assistive learning devices provided to students with physical and sensory disabilities in mainstream schools are: Frequency Modulation (FM) equipment, Braille notebooks, computer systems with specialised features, talking calculators, voice synthesisers, customised furniture and specialised software. Our Special Education (SPED) schools also cater to students with moderate to severe special educational needs who require more support. These schools have specially trained teachers and Allied Professionals who cater to the students’ diverse needs. This is to ensure that these students receive intensive specialised assistance in their education to fully optimise their potential and abilities for learning and independent living.
4. MOE has also strengthened support at the higher education level. Students in every publicly-funded university, polytechnic and ITE can approach their respective Special Educational Needs (SEN) Support Office, or SSO, for support in accessibility arrangements or in-class accommodation. Students with physical and sensory impairments who are studying in the polytechnics and ITE can tap on MOE’s SEN Fund to purchase assistive technology devices and support services that facilitates their learning in class. The publicly-funded universities also provide such funding options to support their students with special educational needs.
5. Besides these kinds of support, we are deeply heartened that scholarships such as the YouthSpark continue to brighten the lives of youths with disabilities with new hope and opportunities. Let me now share about Tan Jian Hao, a graduate from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Jian Hao had suffered hearing loss at a young age of seven after a high fever, but this did not prevent him from pursuing his goals for a career in Information Technology. He did well in secondary school and progressed to NYP to pursue his Diploma in Engineering Informatics on a Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship. At NYP, he continued to do well, and his hard work earned him a place on the Director’s List for three semesters, and a GPA of 3.6. He is currently pursuing his studies in Information Systems at the Singapore Management University, and has won the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship for the second time. Congratulations Jian Hao.
6. Besides excelling academically, Jian Hao is a sportsman too. He was vice-captain of the Lifesaving Club in NYP, and he participated in several swimming competitions, winning a bronze medal for the Men’s 100m freestyle in the Singapore National Games in 2014.
7. Jian Hao also has a passion to help others with disabilities. In 2015, Jian Hao was part of the team which came in second at the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a global student technology competition. The team had created an application to help persons with hearing impairment learn and correct their speech. He also volunteers as a sign language interpreter for SADeaf Igniters, a volunteer group at SADeaf. I understand that he is currently busy helping the World Federation of the Deaf Regional Secretariat that is holding the Asia Youth Camp in Singapore for the first time. Jian Hao is one of the eight youth representing Singapore at the camp.
8. Jian Hao’s story inspires us because we can see that, with opportunities and the necessary support, hard work and perseverance, young learners with disabilities can be achievers, just like their other functioning peers.
Employment – From Learners to Earners
9. After graduating from their studies, our youths with disabilities also need strong support when they progress to the workplace.
10. To enable a smooth transition from school to the workplace, MOE, SG Enable and MSF have successfully prototyped the School-to-Work (S2W) Transition programme with five SPED schools from 2014 to 2015. The S2W Transition Programme is a bridge to different pathways of employment for SPED students of diverse disability profiles and who are able to work. The programme begins in the student’s final year of school and continues for up to a year after he/she graduates. Under this initiative SG Enable works with the students and their families during their final school year to place them in appropriate jobs or job training pathways based on their interests, strengths and preferences. Upon graduation, students receive customised job training, including structured internships with support from Job Coaches, to prepare them for eventual employment. MOE and SG Enable are currently working with SPED schools to scale up the S2W Transition Programme to benefit more students, including those with complex or severe needs, so they can be prepared for gainful employment upon graduation.
11. At the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), our SSOs also play an important role in linking our students with the relevant VWOs and to help them identify suitable internship and employment opportunities. A key partner of this effort is the SPD. The SPD has been supporting the employment of persons with disabilities through their Employment Support Programme, which offers job placement and job support services through a team of professionals comprising employment support specialists, trainers, occupational therapists, assistive technology specialists and social workers.
12. We want to equip and ensure that each youth with disabilities has the chance to realise his or her potential. Apart from the efforts by the government, education institutes and VWOs, it is very encouraging to see businesses joining in, with the same purpose. Initiatives such as the one between HP Enterprise and ITE, has resulted in a six-week attachment for three ITE College Central students with Autism Spectrum Disorder . Microsoft and SPD have worked together to recognise and develop the potential of students with special educational needs. Feedback from these companies has been very positive. The participating students have been valuable contributors to the organisation because they show positive energy, and are able to focus well on their jobs. Because of their drive to contribute meaningfully to society, they give their utmost, and perform to the best of their abilities. We hope to see more of such partnerships and more companies stepping up to offer internship and employment opportunities for students with disabilities. For the pioneer employers present today, I encourage you to expand and grow opportunities provided to persons with disabilities, as they have proven to be productive and valued assets to your companies.
13. To boost these commendable efforts, SG Enable works closely with persons with disabilities and employers to enhance employability and employment options for persons with disabilities. Grants and employment support services under the Open Door Programme are available for employers to support job re-design, acquire assistive technology equipment, and modify workplaces to make them accessible for persons with disabilities.
Learning Beyond School Years – SkillsFuture
14. Our commitment is not only to help persons with disabilities be employed, but also to help them stay employed. Through SkillsFuture, the Government has put in place initiatives to encourage Singaporeans to make lifelong learning a way of life. All Singaporeans aged 25 years and above can tap on their SkillsFuture Credit to pursue courses of their interest and develop new skills. Likewise, SG Enable has recently launched the SkillsFuture Study Awards for persons with disabilities to develop their skills and enhance their employability. The Study Awards are also targeted at disability employment professionals who wish to deepen their skills to better assist persons with disabilities and employers of those with disabilities. I encourage those who meet the eligibility criteria to tap on these Study Awards to sharpen your skillset. In 2017, the Ministry of Manpower will be extending the Workfare Training Support Scheme to younger persons with disabilities in order to support their skills upgrade and help them get good jobs.
Together, We Can
15. All of us play a critical role in this journey of inclusiveness. Let us continue to collaborate to transform our students with special educational needs from learners to earners. In so doing, we are creating opportunities and avenues so that persons with disabilities will have a chance to develop their potential and to contribute meaningfully to society.
16. I wish you all a fruitful conference ahead. Thank you.