Ms Grace Fu
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Leader of the House
Mr Ashish Anupam
President and Chief Executive Officer, NatSteel Holdings
Boys and girls
1. Good morning and welcome to the SPD Education Programme Awards Presentation Ceremony 2016.
2. I believe some of you may have read the story of a high school girl who uses a remote train station in Hokkaido, Japan, and how the station has been kept open for her till she graduates. This was posted on Facebook by a Chinese state broadcaster CCTV earlier this month which has gone viral. She is expected to graduate on March 26, which is when the station is expected to close.
3. I am sharing this because I believe that no effort should be spared to ensure that all our students have reasonable access to a holistic education. While the story of the railway station remaining open for one student may not be totally true, it is an ideal situation that we should work towards, to putting the necessary resources to support our students.
4. I speak from experience. When I was in Paya Lebar Methodist Girl’s School, my teachers and classmates were very supportive. As I had difficulties climbing stairs, the Principal arranged for our classroom to be on the ground floor when I was in upper secondary. Whenever I had to go to the chapel or science laboratory, which were located on the other floors, my friends would assist me up the flight of stairs. But I was never made to feel that I was very much different from my peers.
SPD’s Role in Inclusive Education
5. Today’s event holds a very special place in our hearts as the SPD Education Programme is one of our earliest programmes, started some 30 years ago so that children with disabilities and those whose parents had disabilities were not denied education because of financial hardships. We believed then, as we do now, that education is a powerful enabler that transforms lives, and that every child should have equal opportunity and equal access to education.
6. However, for students with special needs to be fully integrated into mainstream education, support is needed beyond just the dollars and cents. They may face challenges such as keeping up with note taking, completing assignments on time and being able to see and hear what is being taught. There are also the socio-psycho barriers that prohibit them from fully integrating into their schools.
7. Therefore, we have adopted a more holistic approach with the SPD Education Programme. Besides offering financial assistance and care services directly to students with special needs, our staff – from social workers and therapists to assistive technology specialists and public education team – also work with schools to help the students integrate better into the learning environment. For instance, equipping the students with the necessary assistive devices to make classroom learning and interaction easier, talking to teachers and school administrators to help them understand our students’ needs better, and engaging the other students so that they can provide peer support to our students. As part of our outreach efforts last year, we conducted over 20 disability awareness activities that reached out to more than 2,500 students. We hope all these will go towards building a strong foundation for a more inclusive education system.
8. We are encouraged to see the Government putting in more resources in recent years to support students with special needs. Other than the support they receive in school from allied educators and teachers trained to support students with mild special educational needs, many of these students are also tapping on various specialised support including therapy services available in the community. I urge the Ministry of Education or MOE to work closely with voluntary welfare organisations such as SPD to create conducive environments in school and at home to support the children’s learning. Besides creating channels for MOE teachers to work closely with community therapists, encouraging sharing of therapeutic intervention approaches for different learning needs, and raising awareness and understanding of different learning and special needs condition among peers of special needs children are some of the areas that can be enhanced.
SPD Youth Aspiration Awards
9. Singapore’s education system has grown in diversity and depth over the years, thus creating more educational pathways for students with different talents and abilities. The Singapore Sports School and School of the Arts Singapore are some examples. At last year’s Special Education Learning Day, Acting Minister for Education (School) Mr Ng Chee Meng said that more focus will be placed on arts and sports education in special education schools to provide a holistic education for students.
10. At SPD, we see ourselves supporting this national directive for a more diverse education through the SPD Youth Aspiration Award. We help students with disabilities develop their talents and interests outside their studies to nurture all-rounded individuals. Each year, we select two youths who will receive a $5,000 grant each to help them pursue their interests. But today, we recognise not two but four outstanding young Singaporeans who, despite their disabilities, have excelled in sports, dance and community service. They are Ritchie Chan, Edgar Cheong, Alvina Neo and Tan Kok Yew. The selection committee found the youngsters’ talents and passion in their respective fields to be so inspiring that they felt all four deserve an extra boost to help them go further. So congratulations to the four of you. We will hear from them in just a while.
11. We would not have been able to sustain the bursary programme for the last 30 years had we not received the support from individuals and corporate partners who shared our vision. Special thanks therefore to our long-time partner and sponsor of our SPD Education Programme Bursary Awards since 2009 – NatSteel Holdings Pte Ltd. A staunch supporter of equal opportunities in education, NatSteel has been supporting students with disabilities and students whose parents have disabilities in their educational endeavors through this programme. NatSteel also began sponsoring the SPD Youth Aspiration Awards in 2014.
12. One of the beneficiaries of this partnership with NatSteel is 12-year-old Enya Wong. Enya has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and she wears an ankle foot orthosis to help her walk. Enya’s dad is a taxi driver and the sole breadwinner for the family of five. Enya’s mum is a full-time housewife and main caregiver to her and her two younger sisters who also have special needs and health issues that require regular follow-up at hospitals. Despite the difficulties, the family of five has a close relationship and we at SPD try our best to alleviate their challenges. Other than receiving the bursary, Enya is also receiving 100 per cent subsidies in her tuition support and the family receives an $80 grocery voucher every two months for their daily necessities.
13. I’m happy to share that Enya took her PSLE last year and has progressed successfully to a mainstream secondary school. It is, we believe, the first of many milestones for her, achieved in the midst of obstacles and challenges she faces every day, and we hope to continue supporting her educational journey. On behalf of SPD, our beneficiaries and their families, I thank NatSteel for its support and friendship over the years.
14. Indeed, the educational journey today is not an easy, and the challenges are compounded when one has physical disabilities to overcome in the process. I congratulate all our students here today for your resilience and urge you to envisage the life you want to live in future, and to work towards it. Thanks are in order for all parents and caregivers whose love and care must make a difference in the lives of each of our students here today.
15. It is estimated that one billion people are living with some form of disabilities worldwide and many face barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. However, with greater awareness, our society has become more accepting and forthcoming in integrating people with special needs in many aspects of the community. I urge the youngsters here today to give back to the community whenever you can – realise that you too have the ability to help others.
16. Once again my heartiest congratulations to each and every award recipient today, and may your resilience bring you to greater heights.