SPD Education Programme 2017 – Speech by Ms Chia Yong Yong

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Communications and Information and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC
Mr Ashish Anupam, President and Chief Executive Officer, NatSteel Holdings
Distinguished guests
Boys and girls
1. Good morning and welcome to the SPD Education Programme Awards Presentation Ceremony 2017. I am happy to celebrate this joyous occasion with the recipients and their families.
Changing Sector Landscape
2. We have seen much being done in support of people with disabilities in Singapore through the years. It is heartening to see the Government initiating the first Enabling Masterplan in 2007 to study the needs of people with disabilities and to provide greater support. The first two Enabling Masterplans have done much to pave the way to promote inclusion in all domains. Our transport, infrastructure, recreational parks, housing estates and employment sectors are increasingly accessible and better designed for diversity and the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Two months ago, we were elated when the Minister for Education announced the inclusion of children with moderate to severe special needs under the Compulsory Education Act. I am aware and am happy to learn of the various developments in making schools, the wider teaching environment and curriculum inclusive for students with special needs.
3. This gives us a good start as we transit into the third Enabling Masterplan and we hope to see the community build upon the foundation already set to embrace diversity and inclusion. While Singapore has made progress in making education accessible, I am glad that we have never been complacent and often look at service gaps to bridge and best practices to adopt. This brings me to my next point in how we in the people and corporate sectors complement the growing inclusive education landscape.
SPD Education Programme
4. The SPD Education Programme was started in 1985 with the firm belief that children with disabilities and those whose parents had disabilities should not be denied education because of financial hardships. Over the years, the SPD Education Programme expanded and now comprises five main components, namely,
i) Bursary,
ii) Youth Aspiration Award or YAA for short,
iii) Tuition support,
iv) Learning and development programmes and
v) Case management services.
Expansion of the Bursary & Youth Aspiration Award
5. As part of our constant efforts to remain relevant, an internal review was conducted and a decision made to change our support criteria, keeping in mind changing economic and demographic conditions and falling applications. In alignment with SPD’s direction to serve the wider community of persons with disabilities, we have expanded the bursary and YAA criteria to beyond children with physical disabilities. The cohort of recipients and winners you see today includes students with sensory disabilities, that is, those with hearing and visual impairment.
6. We are heartened that this change has resulted in 21 new applications from the sensory disability group, comprising over 20% of the 95 successful applications this year. Three out of the four SPD Youth Aspiration Award winners also have sensory impairment. We hope that not only would the financial assistance be of help to these students and their families, but also the case management services and learning and development component would address any unmet psychosocial needs in the mainstream education system and enable them to integrate better socially.
Youth Aspiration Award – Chew Chee Siang
7. Among the YAA winners is 17-year-old Chew Chee Siang who is receiving the award for his contribution to the community. He has embarked on a long journey of self-discovery and was initially perceived as a trouble maker in primary school. Despite being born with congenital hand disorder on his left hand, he slowly learnt to recognise his own strengths in leading and giving back to the society. A chance encounter in Secondary Two when Chee Siang was being tailed by a suspicious character made him learn how to protect himself better. He managed to break out from his fear and confront the other party, causing him to believe in his own strength. He eventually served as the Director of Community Outreach in National Police Cadet Corps in secondary school, and the Beneficiary Director of Elderly in Interact Club in Junior College. These experiences further impressed upon him the importance of community service and he often found himself planning and executing projects that benefited the less privileged. His commitment is commendable. Please give Chee Siang a round of applause for his courage and conviction in making an impact on the community around him.
NatSteel-SPD’s Partnership
8. Before I close my address, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to NatSteel for the unwavering partnership with SPD in the last decade. It has paved the way for greater inclusiveness within the educational setting for students with special needs.
9. NatSteel’s commitment of over S700,000 to date could have been diverted back to the company to benefit their employees or shareholders. The pressure is even stronger in the face of economic uncertainties. Instead, sharing SPD’s values, NatSteel chose to continue supporting the cause of providing education for students with disabilities to alleviate financial burdens of families. They have also chosen to recognise the more outstanding youths for their non-academic achievements as a step towards realising their ambitions through the SPD Youth Aspiration Award. These initiatives are important in helping our students with disabilities build upon their early successes for higher impact on the economy and the society in the future. I hope that more corporate companies would follow NatSteel’s lead in promoting holistic education and greater inclusion for people with disabilities and special needs in our community.
10. Such spirit that NatSteel has demonstrated deserves our applause. If all of us here are able to aim for the stars and reach our potential, imagine how much more we can achieve as a community in our economy and society as a whole. The sky is the limit.
11. In closing, I would like to convey my heartiest congratulations to each bursary and Youth Aspiration Award recipient today. May your resilience bring you to greater heights.
12. I urge the young people here today to study, live and play hard and make your impact on the community in your own ways. Like Chee Siang, you too have the ability to step up, help others and contribute to society.
Have a fruitful morning.
Thank you.