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(Canada) Vancouver: "Number of children with special needs...autism has risen in recent years"

Sept 28, 2019, (Vancouver, Canada) Today Online: The Big Read: Where kids with and without special needs learn together — and it's not in S'pore …Joshua is not the only student with special needs in the school. Down the hall in another classroom, hands shot up in the air when a teacher asked for volunteers to group odd and even numbers together in a math class. Instead of raising his hand, seven-year-old Ahmed, a student with autism, grunted loudly and made loud noises…. Although he has yet to speak and communicates mostly through signalling, that has not stopped Ahmed from taking part in class activities and playing games with his classmates. In Singapore, children like Josh and Ahmed are more likely to be placed in a special education school instead of a mainstream one. But in British Columbia — Canada’s westernmost province which includes the city of Vancouver and has a population of almost 5 million — they get a shot at a normal school life, interacting with children without special needs. Amid the push towards a more inclusive society in Singapore — which includes greater inclusion in schools — TODAY, in partnership with philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation, visited Vancouver for a week earlier this year to get a first-hand look at how schools there have made inclusive classrooms a reality. About two decades ago, public special education schools were progressively phased out in British Columbia and special education teachers were redeployed to work at the district level, helping schools with the transition to inclusion. But the journey towards inclusion in schools had been long-fought, tracing back to around 1955, when a small group of families — unwilling to institutionalise their children with special needs — began a civil rights movement…. Between the 1960s and 1970s, British Columbia’s Education Ministry slowly began integrating children with special needs in schools, but students with severe disabilities were still taught separately…. It was not until the 1990s when the provincial government eventually moved to provide equal opportunity and increased support for children with special needs. The School Act was revised, entitling all school-aged children to a full educational programme, not separated from other students, in their neighbourhood schools. In 1995, a Special Education Policy Framework for British Columbia was also established, which served to guide the development of legislation for special education programmes and services in British Columbia. In Singapore, the Government has made strides towards a more inclusive education in recent years, amid calls by Members of Parliament (MPs), organisations and parents of children with special needs. The benefits of inclusive education — where children of all needs are well-supported to learn in a non-segregated environment, and not just coexist — have been well documented since the 1990s, not least because it imparts to all children the importance of empathy and acceptance. It also enables those with special needs to form a positive sense of self…. Starting this year, it has also become compulsory for children with moderate to severe special needs to attend school under the Compulsory Education Act — unless they apply for an exemption. Prior to the change, children with moderate to severe special needs are exempt from compulsory education. In response to TODAY’s queries, Mrs Lucy Toh, Divisional Director from the Special Educational Needs Division at the Ministry of Education (MOE), said the proportion of students with special needs in Special Education (Sped) schools and mainstream schools has not changed with the extension of the Act. Currently, there are about 32,000 students with special needs. About 80 per cent of these students (or 25,600) have mild learning needs and are in mainstream schools, including those diagnosed with dyslexia, mild Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, said the MOE. The remaining 20 per cent (or 6,400), with moderate to severe needs, attend one of 19 Sped schools in Singapore, which are run by social service organisations. While it remains a work in progress to improve inclusion in schools and expand educational pathways for children with special needs, Sped schools are expected to expand further as the — due in part to increased awareness and early diagnosis. As Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim told Parliament in July last year, embracing those with different abilities will take time and a sustained effort. ‘We need everyone to commit to this – teachers, schools, parents, the public, employers and the wider society,” he said during the debate on the motion on the future of Singapore’s education system. As Singapore develops its own brand of inclusive education, it could take a leaf out of what British Columbia is doing. Among other things, elementary schools there have in place continuous support structures to help children with special needs. … In British Columbia, education assistants are the equivalent of learning and behavioural support allied educators in Singapore — they cooperate with classroom teachers to provide support for students with special needs. The MOE had embarked on training allied educators and teachers in special needs in 2005 to support children with mild special needs in the mainstream school system. There are more than 25,000 students with special needs in mainstream schools here, and about 500 learning and behavioural support allied educators, said the MOE. In British Columbia, there are currently about 73,000 students with special needs, with close to 12,000 education assistants. … A former learning and behavioural support allied educator, who worked in a mainstream school in Singapore, said that one of the biggest challenges was the case load which she had to manage. The 32-year-old, who only wanted to be known as Ms Lim, told TODAY that in her three years working as an allied educator, she would at times have to “juggle up to 50 cases”….


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