SPD Education Programme Awards Presentation Ceremony 2005 – Speech by Ms Chia Yong Yong

Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Education,

Mr See Cher, President, The Society for the Physically Disabled
Ms Frances Cheang, Co-Chairperson, VWO Capability Fund of NCSS
Ladies & Gentlemen
Boys & Girls
Good morning.



On behalf of the SPD Board of Management, I congratulate the students with us today. This is a proud moment for you. You deserve our praise and admiration for the hard work you have put into your studies the year before.

I also congratulate your parents and caregivers who must be equally delighted to be with you today. As guardians to the students, you too, deserve our respect and admiration, for encouraging and supporting your children in overcoming the challenges along the way.


The Need for Integration

That children with physical disabilities have less learning opportunities is a fact we cannot ignore. There are many reasons– the child’s low self-esteem, the feeling of being a burden to one’s classmates, a perception, whether rightly or wrongly, that a child may be unable or unwilling to participate in various activities, or simply, pure physical inaccessibility.

A disabled child is prone to be socially withdrawn. Isolation can affect his/her performance in school, and, ultimately, in life.

The factors are interrelated and reinforce each other. An under-performing disabled child may one day become an under-achieving adult.

But, does it have to be so?

You are disabled, but must you always be un-abled? Absolutely not! You may be disabled, but you can be enabled.

Shall we serve, or must we always be served? How can the disabled become able, independent and contributing members of our community?

One key answer lies in integration.

Integration is more than just attending a mainstream school and acquiring a formal certification at the end of the students’ educational pursuit. Complete integration means equal opportunity for learning, growing and serving in the community.

So, are we there?


Lack of Integration

To find out, SPD’s team of social workers have from time to time conducted focus group discussions and surveys.

I shall summarise the findings.

First- ergonomics- many students face difficulties using school facilities such as science labs and libraries – tables are too high, aisles too narrow to accommodate mobility aids, and doors difficult to access.

Second- school activities- many disabled students had seldom or never participated in PE, and many are excluded from school outings and excursions.

Third- social relationships- our participants enjoy cordial relationships with their classmates, but, not necessarily with non-classmates.


Call for More Integration

We firmly believe that the Ministry of Education, schools and teachers have done their best to facilitate integration in mainstream schools, and we are certain they will continue to do so. Nevertheless, these findings reinforce the concern that physically disabled students do not have a level playing field. More must be done.

Yet, we recognize that making the school environment, with its complex infrastructure and varied activities, a completely disabled-friendly one cannot be done overnight. Therefore, it is vital that SPD complements the schools’ efforts and fills up the learning and development gaps, especially where accessibility is an issue.

To help meet the challenges faced by our disabled students today, SPD remodelled the Education Programme to make it more structured and systematic.


The New SPD Education Programme

The new SPD Education Programme has three important focus areas. Put simply in the students’ context, it is – I LEARN, I GROW, I SERVE. It is our hope that students will be encouraged to learn, be nurtured and eventually contribute to society.

The new SPD Education Programme is therefore more comprehensive and takes a holistic approach in nurturing the physical, mental and social development of students with physical disabilities. It continues to aim at leveling the playing field for the students while at the same time targeting specific and appropriate programmes for the students and their families. It seeks to complement other community service agencies by offering a continuum of resources to meet specialized needs of the students and to enhance their inclusion in mainstream education.

The new SPD Education Programme has four components – the Education Bursary and Special Assistance Schemes, a Learning and Development Centre, a Care Management Programme and the Scholarships.

Bursaries are awarded under the Education Bursary Scheme to students from low-income families, from mainstream primary to tertiary levels. The Special Assistance Scheme, administered on a case-by-case basis, provides financial assistance to students in the purchase of necessary assistive technology devices to help the students cope with their schoolwork and in case of financial emergency and/or crisis .

The new Learning & Development Centre for the Physically Disabled will be a full service centre for developmental programmes, arts and drama and other school-related courses, sports and recreational activities, student counseling, tuition, mentoring and befriending. A Programme Development officer will assess the learning and developmental needs of the students, and design and coordinate an appropriate range of holistic programmes, initiatives and educational alternatives.

The Centre will maintain a virtual support group for the students as well as provide a forum for the students to air their views. It will be supported by SPD’s other programmes such as the Specialist Assistive Technology Centre and IT Training Lab.

Individual social support services to the family and student are provided by our professional social workers under SPD’s Care Management Programme.

The fourth component, the Scholarships, will give continued recognition of and encouragement to physically disabled students who excel academically. We hope our scholars will contribute in community service and be role models for students with physical disabilities.


Liew Chong Heng – A Case in Point

At this point, I wish to talk about Liew Chong Heng. Born with spinal muscular atrophy, he has been under the SPD Education Programme since 1994 and has attended various enrichment courses through the Programme.

Chong Heng is a 20-year-old 1st year Information Systems Management student at the Singapore Management University. Despite his heavy school schedule, he actively mentors secondary school students under the SMU-BP Mentoring Scheme. He also

participated in a joint research project between the SPD Assistive Technology Centre and Carnegie Mellon University, involving software that would enable people with limited hand functions to take notes more efficiently using a PDA.

Chong Heng has demonstrated that a disabled person can be an able person who actively contributes to society.


Our Commitment

SPD is committed to helping students grow in all aspects of their lives. We are ready to commit to their educational development through our enrichment programmes in an informal setting. Our unique position in being able to provide support services through the Specialist Assistive Technology Centre, Rehabilitation Centre and a host of sheltered employment services puts us in an ideal position to cater to the needs of the students. We are confident that with our schemes and our reviews of the SPD Education Programme, we can help bring about a more integrated system which produces more confident, well-rounded, albeit physically disabled, students.

We recognize that this is a big task to undertake on our own, and we are grateful to our partners who share our vision. I wish to record our thanks to Caltex Singapore Pte Ltd, the Lee Foundation and the Singapore Buddhist Lodge for their generous donations towards the SPD Education Programme.

We also look forward to greater partnership and collaboration with the Government to make a big difference in the lives of the physically disabled. To facilitate our efforts, we will be presenting a proposal to the Ministry of Education for the Edusave grant to fund some enrichment programmes under our three-year Education Plan.



Finally, to the students here today- we look forward to walking this path again with you through the new SPD Education Programme and to growing and achieving more with you.

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