When I first moved to Singapore, I was initially struck by just how differently the attitude towards children with disabilities were from what I had known it to be in the west. A number of studies have shown the extreme gap in resources for people suffering with mental health disorders throughout Asia. However the longer I live here, I see benefits in the way culturally things are done differently.
The 2006 Child Care Act shows the great measures taken within the UK to ensure the safety of children of all abilities. The act outlined how crucial parents and caregivers were for a child’s healthy development. Acknowledging this group’s healthy well-being ensured the best possible chance for a child’s healthy development. It identified the importance to have access to the support they need, when they need it, in helping to maintain a positive, resilient parent. Documenting imperative factors such as information, advice and signposting to other services would be crucial, while retaining a discrete and dignified system, with which parents feel comfortable in seeking help and advice.
However it is only in recent years that attitudes have begun to shift towards children with disabilities within Asia. Previously, societies tend to view disability as a ‘tragedy’ whereas now, despite there being very little support for parents or caregivers, Singapore has undergone a remarkable change in special educational provision.Article 16(1) of the Singapore Constitution recognises the individual’s right to education.
However, it is clear there is still some way to go when compared to the more developed countries. This can be seen with the restrictions from Article 12(2) in the Compulsory Education Act (CEA) that excludes children with disabilities. Consequently, many school aged children with disabilities slip past the government’s obligation to ensure he or she is in school, to the point where it is unknown how many children remain at home.
For those children whose parents are determined to get them into school, enrolling them into a suitable school becomes the second issue. The government funded schools such as Pathlight, despite having increased their enrolment to above 600, still receive more than 200 applications each year adding to the never-ending queue. Having said this, the changes are apparent and happening. On a recent visit to the school, the Minister for Education, Mr Heng Swee Keat announced that an additional 300 places would be phased in from next year to meet the increased demand.
This is expected to cost around $30 million, adding to the to the $120 million the MOE has already invested in the other 17 Special Education (SPED) schools throughout the last decade. The Education Minister Dr Ng maintains with this extra effort every child who applies for admission should be able to find a place in one of the SPED schools. It is also stated Singaporean disabled children are given priority placement and there are currently no Singaporean’s on the waiting list for Pathlight.
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