“S’poreans support inclusive education but do not walk the talk: Study”
Tuesday, 31 May 2016
SINGAPORE — While Singaporeans are supportive of the idea of inclusive education, this has not been borne out by action to the same degree, a study commissioned by Lien Foundation that polled 1,086 Singaporeans has found.
About seven in ten respondents (71%) said they support the idea of inclusive education and believe in the benefits of inclusive education (69%). But only half said they are comfortable with their child seated next to a classmate with special needs, and about 53 per cent said they are comfortable with their child being classmates with someone with special needs.
(Click to enlarge) - Graphic: Blackbox
Only about a quarter of the parents polled said their child has friends with special needs, and just one in ten said they feel certain on how to interact with children with special needs.
The study, conducted last month by Blackbox Research, also found that only about a third of the respondents feel that Singapore is an inclusive society, and about half (49%) feel there is a need for new laws to protect the rights of children with special needs.
Currently, even as 2,600 children diagnosed with developmental needs attend the Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children (EIPIC), industry estimates show that about 70 per cent of them are unable to enrol in a pre-school.
Noting the gap “between what we think and what we do”, Lien Foundation programme manager Ng Tze Yong, sharing the results of the study on Monday (May 30), suggested that inclusive education be mandated, to act as an “enabler” at the school level and could later prompt parents to be accepting of other children with special needs.
Early childhood consultant Peggy Zee, who founded a pre-school that admits children with special needs, said that some parents may be concerned about their children’s development in an inclusive classroom.
But such settings can help children pick up skills like compassion and creative-thinking, to play in different ways. With skilled teachers providing differentiated instruction, children are able to learn just as well, she said.
Associate Professor Kenneth Poon, who researches special needs at the National Institute of Education, noted the importance of creating opportunities for interaction, starting at the pre-school level, to transform negative attitudes such as low tolerance or acceptance into mutual understanding and respect — including among parents.
Experts also stressed the need for adequate infrastructure such as skilled manpower or mentorships for teachers, in order for inclusive education to be more extensive. Said Mr Tang Hui Nee, head of community services at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital: “Inclusion without provision of necessary resources is not inclusion, it is called dumping.”
Since this year, both the SEED Institute and Ngee Ann Polytechnic have offered courses for pre-school teachers on special needs. Ms Vyvyan Gan, 29, who took a course in special needs and is currently working in Singapore’s first inclusive pre-school, Kindle Garden, observed that her students are more patient in caring for a classmate with Down Syndrome.
“They help to take her water bottle or hug her when she cries, there are more opportunities for them to develop these (soft) skills,” she said.
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