SPD Education Programme 2008 – Speech by Ms Chia Yong Yong

Theme : Unlocking Potential, Maximising Abilities

Rear-Admiral Lui Tuck Yew
Minister of State for Education

Mr See Cher
President, Society for the Physically Disabled

Main sponsors
Supporting partners
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen
Boys and girls

Good morning,



On behalf of the SPD Board of Management, I would like to thank our Guest-of-Honour, Rear-Admiral Lui for taking time off his busy schedule to attend the ceremony this morning. His support is a great encouragement to us.


Like most Singaporeans, we ushered in a new year with hopes and resolutions to make the year ahead a better one than the last. I too, entered the year with fresh hopes.

In the previous year, the SPD Education Programme had forged many partnerships and developed programmes further in keeping with our mission to provide a holistic care to our students with physical disabilities.

One of our valued partners is the schools. We hope that in the coming year, our partnership will be strengthened in order to bring about better integration of students with physical disabilities in the mainstream schools. So far, we have received valuable feedback from some schools regarding their difficulties in integrating students with physical difficulties in their midst. For
instance, one of the Special Needs school with wheelchair-friendly facilities is concerned if their existing staff can adequately support the students with physical disabilities that are assigned to them. We want to assure you that we hear your difficulties and we hope to work closely with MOE to address some of your concerns and constraints.

Integration is no easy matter. It is fair to anticipate difficulties in the process. However, we are heartened that other schools have successfully integrated students with physical disabilities in their midst, some despite not having wheelchair-friendly facilities.

We are glad for schools like Evergreen Primary School where students with physical disabilities feel welcomed by caring and supportive teachers and principal. It therefore comes as no surprise when their top PSLE student, Loh Jia Wei, who has a degenerative muscular condition, aced last year’s PSLE score. It takes visionary educators like those in Evergreen Primary to believe in students with physical disabilities can excel despite their limitations.

Eight years ago, who would have imagined that Jan Lee, a Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation-SPD Scholar, would secure a job as an auditor with KPMG, one of the four top auditing firms, even before he graduates from Nanyang Technology University? His success stems from the vision of his tutor from Ngee Ann Polytechnic Mr Jonas Lee, the Business Administration lecturer, who spotted his potential. When Mr Lee realized that the some areas of the polytechnic campus were inaccessible for Jan, a wheelchair-user, he took it upon himself to advocate for funds to build a lift near the library lobby and make the sidewalks more accessible for Jan. Jan’s movement around the polytechnic was subsequently made smooth. And with Mr Lee’s encouragement and mentoring, Jan graduated from polytechnic with flying colours and progressed to NTU to study Accountancy.

Sailing champion, Jovin Tan also looks back fondly on his primary school days and attributes his sporting success to his form teacher, Mrs Padman (to give full name) from Hong Wen Primary School. In 1996, then a small-built Primary 4 student, Jovin recalled how Mrs Padman often encouraged him by telling him that his disabilities were no barrier to achieving his dreams and goals in life. Jovin now makes his mark on the seas by winning numerous sailing competitions both local and overseas. He would not have gone the distance and sailed the seas if not for the constant encouragement from his teacher at that impressionable age. Incidentally, Mrs Padman’s brother, Dr Raja Soorya, has polio and is now a senior consultant for medicine at Alexandra Hospital.

It takes visionary educators like Mr Jonas Lee and Mrs Padman to see the potential within their students with physical disabilities, open the pathway to unlock their potential and provide opportunities for them to maximise their abilities.

While more funds will solve the lack of accessible features in schools and increase the number of barrier-free schools in Singapore, a caring and supportive school environment is priceless. There is a saying that “Bricks and mortar makes a house. It’s the laughter of children that makes a home”. True and successful integration takes more than building ramps and lifts. Successful integration should also encompass an open mind and warm hospitality to welcome students with physical disabilities. To quote Mr Tan Kah Teo, principal of Evergreen Primary School, in his interview with The Straits Times, he said “Hardware aside, it is really the heartware that counts. Human kindness is more important than the infrastrucuture”.

The warm hospitality and acceptance of students with physical disabilities should filter down from the top school management all the way to the students’ level. That’s the spirit of education, of the school management setting the exemplary example in developing the students’ minds and morals. It’s the best civics education possible, that could not be taught by the text books. Integration would teach our young generation how to relate to people who are different from them, a lesson which is now more critical when we are facing an ageing and diverse population. The early exposure to people with different needs can foster a culture of gracious acceptance of differences and strengthening our society’s social fabric. Hence, this leads me to strongly believe that a warm and supportive school environment plays a significant and even fundamental role in the successful integration of students with physical disabilities in mainstream schools.

We hope that Ministry will address the concerns and difficulties faced by the school personnel in dealing with students with physical disabilities. We are heartened by the continuing efforts of the Ministry to train and deploy more special needs officers (SNOs) to support special needs students in mainstream schools. However, we would like the Ministry to ensure that these SNOs are also trained to handle diverse disabilities including physical disabilities. SPD has the resources to partner with schools to provide the training and assistive support to enable students with physical disabilities to participate competently in classroom activities.

All of us have a part to play in building bridges for successful integration and to demolish physical and mental barriers that impede successful integration.



I would like to record our grateful thanks for the generous support from our corporate partners who share our vision and hope for students with physical disabilities and who have contributed immensely to the SPD Education Programme.

I wish to thank Wearnes and Southeast Community Development Council for their generous contribution towards the SPD Education Programme Bursary Award 2008. To Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation, we are grateful for the scholarship scheme they initiated in 2004 to encourage and nurture academically strong disabled students. With their vision, our pioneer batch of scholars is now gainfully employed. With a new batch of scholars joining the troop, we hope their outstanding academic achievements would inspire the other students here today to follow their footsteps and strive to do well in their studies. Also thanks to ObTech Asia Pacific Pte Ltd for being our valued partners in supporting the needs of our students.

This morning, we will be honouring some schools and education institutes for their commendable partnership with SPD in raising funds and volunteering in our programmes and services.



I congratulate our students here today for doing well, and we look forward to walking this educational journey with you.

May I take this opportunity to wish one and all a happy and fruitful year ahead.

Thank you.