From next year, all the 20 Special Education (SPED) schools will share broad educational outcomes even as they continue employing different approaches to cater to their diverse students.
In an interview with Today, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Education and Law) Sim Ann - who had been tasked to conduct a review of the SPED sector - revealed yesterday that the initiative is one of several that would be implemented. Others include moves to provide guidelines to professionals such as therapists and doctors, in order to assist parents in planning the education of their special needs children.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) will also step up vocational training opportunities for special needs children who are able to work and encourage more employers to hire those with special needs.
There have been calls from certain quarters for greater standardisation of curriculum and a higher level of professionalism among SPED schools.
Ms Sim reiterated that the guiding principle behind the review is to look at the issues from the perspective of a parent with a special needs child.
Ms Sim said: "Being able to be clear about the outcomes that are achievable for the different groups of such students becomes very important. Parents all want the best for their child. In the case of special needs, it is not just about going to the best school, it is actually about what are the best lifelong outcomes that we can achieve."
To help achieve that, the MOE will put in place a "comprehensive framework" - a first for the sector, Ms Sim noted. While the approach can differ significantly among schools, such a framework could ensure a certain level of consistency as well as help schools learn best practices from one another, she added.
Said Ms Sim: "We hope all the schools will be able to use (the framework) as a foundation to build their own development of specific curriculum."
Ms Sim reiterated that the "last thing we want" is for the framework to create pressure for parents and special needs children.
She added: "What we want is no different than what parents want ... if this child can be prepared to master more skills to do more for him or herself upon leaving school, I think the parent would want that."
Apart from raising the quality of special needs education, the review also seeks to provide better accessibility to the resources for parents. Some plans in the pipeline include a more integrated school admission process and ways to help parents gather information on the various schools.
The review also looks at the affordability of special needs education. There is scope to provide more assistance for families and this will be looked into, Ms Sim said.
Looking ahead, MOE plans to implement more partnerships between SPED schools and their mainstream counterparts. The ministry is also considering opening up more training avenues for special needs educators in the National Institute of Education and explore other channels to address manpower issues.
Acknowledging the dedication of the SPED educators, Ms Sim reiterated that a partnership between the MOE and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) is still the way forward.
Said Ms Sim: "Because of the diverse needs in the sector, we in MOE do not have the monopoly of knowledge on how best to meet such diverse needs."
"The further we move away from a mainstream curriculum, the less we know, so partnership becomes very critical ... we very much respect the place of VWOs and we see a lot of benefits in working closely with them."