SINGAPORE - Children gather at a school playground in Redhill to sing their morning song together.
Sara, who is hearing-impaired, joins in by signing the song. Tom, who cannot speak, follows the rhythm on a tambourine.
Such a scene will soon be a daily sight in a new pre-school which starts in the middle of next year. For the first time here, children with special needs will be able to learn alongside regular children.
Both groups will be in a shared space, without dedicated enclosures to separate the children, in this new pre-school run by voluntary welfare group Asian Women's Welfare Association (AWWA).
"Disability is not a contagious disease, so why are we segregating and alienating young children from one another, while in the classroom you are teaching them to respect others?" asked Mr Lee Poh Wah, CEO of Lien Foundation, which is funding the school.
The hope is for the school to promote inclusion in life, he said.
"If people with and without disabilities can meaningfully interact as classmates, colleagues and fellow Singaporeans, negative attitudes will gradually give way to greater understanding and respect," he said.
Ms Christina Van Huizen, assistant director of AWWA, said: "In the true spirit of inclusion, we will take in children with all ranges of special needs, including those with medical needs."
At full enrolment, the school can take in 75 children, with 30 per cent of its places allocated to those with special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy or mobility impairment.
The facility and its programme will be designed to accommodate children with special needs.
For instance, it will have wheelchair-friendly play structures.
Teachers will give more attention to children with special needs, helped by a speech therapist and an occupational therapist.
Ms Van Huizen said the teachers - each of whom has a degree on top of a diploma in early childhood education - will be trained in phases.
New hires will be trained on disability types and intervention strategies. Later, the teachers may attend specific training leading to certification.
The pre-school will be set within a 30,000 sq m integrated community space for people with disabilities in Redhill, developed by SG Enable, a government-established agency which provides services for the disabled.
At 1,100 sq m, the facility, which has not yet been named, will be about twice the size of a typical centre sited in the void deck of a Housing Board block.
It will offer both full-day and half-day care at $980 and $680 respectively, before subsidies
Experts welcomed the initiative
Dr Khoo Kim Choo, an early childhood specialist who runs her own pre-school, said some children may be slower in social, cognitive and physical development, and such integration will help.
"Every child needs to feel loved and accepted, and that he belongs. For the children to be in an environment that accepts and understands differences from a young age, it will make them more confident," she said.
Housewife Marsita Rubianti, 40, who has a 12-year-old intellectually disabled son, said: "My son is different from others so he never could go to school with other regular children.
"It is very good that AWWA is starting this pre-school. If we had this last time, I would surely have tried it."
This article was first published on Dec 03, 2014.
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