The Disabled People's Association (DPA) agrees with the points raised by Mr Wee Yeong Wei ("It's about the kids with special needs"; last Saturday) and Mrs Leaena Tambyah ("Kids with special needs have right to education"; Tuesday).
We also agree that children with disabilities should not be automatically exempted from the Compulsory Education Act.
Although more can be done to improve the educational opportunities for children with disabilities, it is important to acknowledge what is currently being done by the Government.
We appreciate that the Ministry of Education (MOE) has started to take greater ownership over special education, working with special education (Sped) schools to develop their curricula to have markers for ensuring that the students show development from year to year.
The MOE has also been upgrading the accessibility of mainstream schools to accommodate more children with disabilities.
The ministry, along with the National Council of Social Service, provides funding for Sped schools to help with the higher cost of accommodating some special needs.
Although children with disabilities are automatically exempted from compulsory education, in practice most of them are enrolled either in mainstream schools or Sped schools.
However, there are long waiting lists for places in Sped schools. If all children with disabilities were not automatically exempted from compulsory education, there would be a legal responsibility for the Government to ensure they have a place in an educational institution, be it a mainstream school or Sped school.
One unexpected issue that arises from automatic exemption from compulsory education is how one deals with truancy at Sped schools. Because of the exemption, there is no real legal recourse for Sped schools when children fail to attend classes. If the child is covered by compulsory education and fails to attend school, his parent/guardian may be guilty of an offence.
The DPA hopes the MOE will continue to take on more roles in the governance of Sped schools, not because all such schools necessarily need greater supervision, but because all students' education should be the ministry's responsibility.
Despite all the good work of everyone involved in special education, one should consider the symbolic meaning of having the education of many of those with disabilities being taken care of largely by welfare organisations rather than the MOE.
Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)
Disabled People's Association
This article was first published on Oct 9, 2014.
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