ITE-SPD Conference Inclusiveness: Innovations In Wellness – Welcome Address by Ms Chia Yong Yong

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), Mr Ong Ye Kung
Principal of ITE College East, Dr Yek Tiew Ming
School Administrators, Teachers and Students
Friends and Sector Partners
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Good morning. Welcome to today’s conference which is a testament of the partnership forged between an educational institution and a non-profit organisation in ensuring that persons with disabilities are given equal access to quality education. Our schools strive to not only provide quality education, but also a holistic one. Teachers and allied educators are tasked to ensure that our students are given opportunities to cultivate their full potential, which include their wellness. With students’ varying profiles and challenges, we may need to seek and apply different or creative ways to engage our students meaningfully.
2. Through the conference today, themed ‘Inclusiveness: Innovation in Wellness’, we hope to learn from one another and ignite our creative spark on possible ways to accommodate our classrooms and schools for students with special needs.
Recognising and promoting multiple ways to success
3. As Minister Ong Ye Kung had shared, Singapore’s education landscape is changing from emphasis on grades to building aptitudes and skills with diverse pathways towards success. SPD believes that every child, including those with disabilities, has equal rights to education and we want to help them to fulfil their educational aspirations.
4. I would like to introduce 26-year-old Dr Azariah Tan who is in the audience with us today (acknowledge him). At the age of four, Azariah was diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Incremental hearing loss has left him with about 15 percent residual hearing. However, it did not deter him to pursue his dreams in music. He has a first-class honours degree in Music from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, and double masters in Music as well as a doctorate in Piano Performance from the University of Michigan. He had since won numerous accolades. He was also recently awarded with the Paul Abisheganaden Grant for 2017 for his significant contributions to the performing arts. Apart from his own determination, his success is also the due to unsung heroes such as his parents and also his teachers, whom he has recognised for their guidance and patience. Azariah’s journey to success not only inspires us to realise our dreams, it also epitomises the notion that when given the opportunity, support and resources, we are not limited by our disabilities.
5. On this basis, SPD drives the SPD Youth Aspiration Award. This award serves as a conduit by providing a $5,000 grant to allow youths with disabilities to develop their interests and talents in the areas of visual and performing arts, sports and community service.
6. Take 23-year-old Then An Zhi as an example. He leads an active lifestyle engaging in Dragon Boat with his peers. He was diagnosed at birth with severe hearing impairment in his left ear, and has faced several challenges throughout life ranging from social awkwardness to miscommunication during conversations. The one thing that has kept him going, however, is his commitment to his sport. Inspired by former First Lady of America, Michelle Obama, An Zhi often pushes himself out of his comfort zone. He has since taken part in overseas dragon boat competition. Aside from his dragon boating, An Zhi aspires to be a professional software engineer and create software applications to improve the lives of his peers and the elderly.
Holistic and Inclusive Environment
7. SPD recognises and applauds the efforts of educators and allied educators in providing a holistic education experience. You are at the forefront in making possible a more inclusive environment for students with special needs and nurturing students into caring and inclusive Singaporeans.
8. To illustrate, At ITE Central‘s the Student Care Centre, it believes in providing equal opportunities for students with mental, emotional, and/or special needs to thrive throughout their journey in ITE. To facilitate inclusion in school, the Student Care Centre created Lunch Club; a dining area in the Student Care Centre that invites students with and without social skills challenges to meet every day to bond and feel included simply over lunch. Students at Lunch Club find great comfort in being able to make new friends and practice their social skills in a fun, engaging setting.
9. It is indeed encouraging to see our institutes of higher learning also walking the path of ITE in embracing diversity and inclusion. Take SMU for example. Undergraduates with special learning needs have buddies and are seen to participate in the usual slew of campus activities like orientation camps, being part of the vibrant campus life. I also understand that relevant support services are in place, such as access to modified assessments or examinations, digital or modified course materials and note-takers or sign language interpreters. Such accommodations are the result of consultations between students and SMU in considering students’ needs and conditions. Similar to ITE Central, there is also a respite and inclusive space for students with disabilities.
10. Inspired by this inclusive spirit, various schools and institutes of higher learning such as Ngee Ann Polytechnic, SUTD and NUS have been requesting SPD to conduct talks and workshops on disability awareness for their students and staff. It is a reflection of the direction on which our society is embarking and the positive change that we are making. A rising number of education institutions, and for that matter, more public services and Singaporeans, are taking the initiative to learn more about disabilities. We are slowly witnessing a paradigm shift from avoidance and apathy to acceptance of persons with disabilities in our social and educational space.
Closing note
11. In today’s conference we will be learning and exploring innovative ways to accommodate the learning needs of students with special needs. And these innovative ways transcend the classrooms’ learning experience and academia. They permeate into social, community and recreational spaces, thus providing a more holistic education experience and knowledge for students with special needs and a more inclusive environment overall.
12. However, all these knowledge would remain as rhetoric unless we translate it to action in school, our work places and social environment. I recognise that many of you here today play a key role in charting or developing an inclusive environment in your respective workplaces. I would like to urge you to be that inclusion advocate and driver for our children and students with special needs.
13. We are fully aware that inclusion does not happen overnight. Thus we need to advocate and keep asking the tough questions. Are we doing enough? Is there a better way to ramp up an inclusive presence in schools? Should we plant the seed early by incorporating a structured curriculum on disability for children as young as Primary 1? Will that pave the way for a more inclusive environment so that such values are infused in our children or children’s children? We wouldn’t know unless we try. SPD is looking forward to working closely with MOE on the possibility of an inclusion module for mainstream kids. The ball is now in your court, what will you do tomorrow or the day after, post-conference? The important decision is in your hands.
Thank you.