Kids with special needs have right to education

Kids with special needs have right to education
A hub in Paya Lebar will bring together five voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) under one roof.

Mr Wee Yeong Wei mentioned the exclusion of children with special needs from compulsory education ("It's about the kids with special needs"; last Saturday).

Eleven years ago, the Asian Women's Welfare Association initiated the setting up of the Joint Committee for Compulsory Education for All. All voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) that ran schools for children with special needs, except one, took part in this project.

A comprehensive survey was conducted and it revealed that a clear majority of parents wanted their children with disabilities to be included in compulsory education.

In 2004, this committee presented its report to then Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, but up till now, there has been no progress.

Yet, Singapore is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which enshrines their right to education.

Despite numerous setbacks, several young people with disabilities have proved time and again that they are extraordinary. They have excelled not only vocationally but also academically. In sports, our athletes with disabilities have brought honour to this country.

VWOs have helped the more intellectually and physically disabled achieve the best they can. Why have these children been excluded from compulsory education?

Yes, it does cost more to educate a child with disabilities. Their classes have to be smaller and they need individual attention. But this does not mean they and their parents should be treated like outcasts. They are Singaporeans and education is their right.

Given the appropriate start in relevant schools, they will be less of a burden than this country makes them out to be. VWOs would happily continue to run special education schools on behalf of the Ministry of Education.

Children and young people with disabilities are unique individuals. Some families have more than one child with disabilities. Their mothers are among Singapore's heroines.

It is of utmost importance to recognise that as young people with disabilities become adult Singaporeans, their ageing mothers will not be able to give them the loving care they have showered them with over all these years. Something has to be done about this.

Leaena Tambyah (Mrs)

This article was first published on Oct 7, 2014.
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