SPD Education Programme Awards Presentation Ceremony 2004 and Launch Of SPD-Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Scholarship – Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Mr Koh Nai Teck, President, The Society for the Physically Disabled

Mr Koh Poh Tiong, Chairman, Executive Committee, Asia-Pacific Breweries Foundation


Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning


I am happy to be here today for the SPD Education Programme Awards Presentation Ceremony and the launch of the SPD-Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Scholarship.

Let me first congratulate each of the award winners who are with us today. The SPD awards play an important role. They celebrate the special achievements of the award winners. They also send a broader signal, that education is important for all of us, regardless of the challenges and difficulties we each may face. It provides each of us with the opportunity to discover talents we often never knew we had, and to develop the skills that allow us to go out into the world and achieve our ambitions.


Building an Active Citizenry

As Singapore gears itself up for the challenges of the global economy, our aspirations as a society must include a special place for people with disabilities. Singapore is not only about economic efficiency, or about individual achievement. If that is all we are about, Singapore will lack the soul that makes a city stand out as great. It will lose the emotional quality that makes it a home to its citizens – a home for the heart.

As we move into the next phase of our development as a nation, therefore, economic advancement must be accompanied by the evolution of a more civic-conscious, tightly bound society. A society where every talent, every job, every skill and every citizen is valued. Where every individual is able to participate fully in society, and to contribute, each in his own way, to the good of their fellow citizens.

That’s what makes the best cities what they are. It’s what gives them a warm buzz, a buzz of civic-consciousness that somehow feeds on itself. You don’t see it on the billboards or headlines, but you can feel it and you know it is there, at the street crossings, in the markets, at the staircases, in the metros and buses.

We have to work towards enabling people with disabilities to live full lives, integrated to the maximum extent possible in the workplace and in the community. This should be the concern of everyone – the family, the community and the government. It cannot be the responsibility of any one of these alone. We need more Singaporeans to reach out to people with disabilities, recognise their potential talents and contributions, and help them to develop those talents to the fullest measure. And employers must welcome people with disabilities, recognising that those with disabilities are often the most determined to do the job well, and to achieve economic self-reliance.

Our people with disabilities in Singapore are a determined and self-reliant lot. They want to give something, not just take something. By demonstrating fortitude in overcoming their physical limitations, they are an example to all Singaporeans. There are many examples around us of such individuals. SPD has told me of one of them, Linli, a past recipient of the SPD Education Programme Award recipient. Linli relies on a special assistive device, so that she can access the computer and get her work done. Despite her severe disability, she has struck out for herself, completed her accountancy diploma and now works as an assistant accountant with the Salvation Army.

This is also why organisations like SPD play a very important role in realising our vision for Singapore. They are part of the “many helping hands” approach, involving partners from the government, private and people sectors, complementing each other to better help people with disabilities. It is an approach that encourages an active citizenry and is what will make the future Singapore.


Improving Opportunities for Education

MOE will continue to support the work of Voluntary Welfare Organisations like SPD so that we can help every student reach his full potential. Special schools for students with learning or physical disabilities are an important part of this collective effort. Beyond the special schools, we have also made provisions for children with disabilities who are able to follow the regular school curriculum to be enrolled in mainstream schools. Over the last five years, MOE has increased its provision of facilities and resources for pupils with sensory impairments and physical disabilities. To date, 31 primary and 25 secondary schools are fitted with full facilities for the physically disabled, and more are being fitted out for the purpose. These schools are geographically spread out so that pupils with physical disabilities are able to access them easily.

One of the more recent collaborations was launched in March last year, with the formation of a workgroup with representatives from MOE, AWWA TEACH ME Services and SPD. The workgroup provides guidance for the provision of Educational Assistive Devices (EADs) to pupils with physical disabilities in mainstream schools and evaluates applications of EADs for schools.

Under this arrangement, MOE collaborates with AWWA TEACH ME Services to identify the pupils who need EADs. SPD supports TEACH ME Services by assessing these pupils’ needs and recommending appropriate EADs. And MOE provides the EADs to the pupils, and facilitates the training of teachers and pupils in the use of the devices. To date, MOE has equipped 46 pupils, at a cost of some $45,300. It is government-community collaborations like this which ensure that adequate support is given to students with special needs, so that they do not get sidelined simply because they face greater physical challenges than other students.

On its part, SPD has played an active role to support students in their academic ambitions. The SPD Education Programme began as a financial bursary scheme, offering awards since 1985. I am happy to see that the Programme is also expanding to offer new services. SPD has introduced initiatives such as tuition programmes, career guidance, an online forum for the youths, and mentoring and enrichment programmes. These programmes are tailored to provide additional support and guidance for specific groups of students. They go beyond meeting academic and financial challenges, and contribute towards their all-round development as young citizens.

Today, the launch of the SPD-Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Scholarship will see another source of help and support for students. The Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation has pledged to provide two scholarships every year for four years, with a commitment of up to $220,000. It is wonderful that this first scholarship for students with physical disabilities is fully undertaken and supported by a private initiative. I look forward to seeing more of such partnerships and initiatives develop between the private sector and volunteer organisations.



In closing, I would like to commend SPD for its support of the physically disabled in Singapore. I hope that SPD will continue to look for new and innovative ways to partner its stakeholders and supporters, so that their efforts to help the community will be sustainable and lasting. To the students here today, I hope that you will cherish the opportunities that you have been given, work hard, and develop your talents and potential to the fullest. Singapore is proud of you.