Provide Option Of Mainstream Academic Curriculum At Special Schools sign now

PROVIDE OPTION OF MAINSTREAM ACADEMIC CURRICULUM AT SPECIAL SCHOOLS

We represent a group of parents/caregivers of children with autism in Singapore.

We are writing this letter to make an appeal to the Singapore government to provide the option of mainstream academic curriculum at all special schools which are now mainly focusing on teaching life skills.

First of all, we would like to commend the efforts that the Singapore government has made to make available special education for our children. We were encouraged by the efforts that have been put in to build Pathlight School that provides mainstream academic curriculum to children with autism. However, Pathlight School is only one school and the enrolment space is very limited.

While a segment of children with autism have been fortunate enough to enjoy the mainstream academic curriculum in Pathlight, there is still a number of children with autism which are not able to benefit from this programme and have been left behind in other special schools which do not provide mainstream academic curriculum.

As you may be aware, children with autism have primary impairments in their social interaction, communication, imagination and behaviour. These are the main criteria for an autism diagnosis. We wish to highlight that if the criteria to select children for mainstream academic curriculum are that the children must not have communication or behavioural issues, it is effectively preventing many children with autism from a formal education. We wish to highlight that even though these children may have impairments in their communication and behaviour, their forte are often in the area of learning and acquisition of knowledge. Such children (in particular non-verbal or not so verbal children) have learning capabilities which are often not detected in schools which focus on teaching life skills. To prevent such children from acquiring academic skills is to prevent their growth in the areas they are best at.

While life skills are important as our children are recognized to have impairments in these areas. The rationale that such children cannot learn academics until they have mastered their life skills is not reasonable. Knowing that these children will continue to have such impairments throughout most of their lives (based on current medical beliefs), it is like telling the deaf that you are not entitled to an education until you have learned to talk! That is an unreasonable demand on the disabled.

Some of the parents/caregivers have been fortunate to witness the learning abilities of their children through various methods with home tutors and know that their children are capable of learning more. These parents/caregivers have captured their learning process at home on video showing the childrens learning potential. Hence, it is not simply wishful thinking on the part of parents/caregivers that their autistic children with behavioural and communication impairments are capable of learning.

1 in 166 people are afflicted with autism. Whether it is due to better diagnosis or an epidemic, the numbers of people with autism is large and will continue to grow as long as there are no immediate medical advancements and breakthroughs in biomedical research. The autism spectrum is wide with people on varied points of the spectrum. One size cannot fit all. One school to cater to the academic demands of children with autism cannot be enough. An alternative is to offer a mainstream academic curriculum option in tandem to the existing programmes in special schools. The reason for this is our childrens growths are not static. While it is recognized that there are children in special schools which may not be ready for mainstream academic curriculum in their earlier years, there must be an option for parents/caregivers to choose to switch when the parents/caregivers (who know their children best) observe and have evidence that their children are ready at later stages. They should not be branded for life that they cannot pick up academic skills in the future.

We appreciate the dedication and efforts of the principals, teachers and volunteers at the various special schools. Many are often tired out from overwork. It is admirable that these people have chosen a career path in the social work profession which normally pays meager returns. Some of the parents/caregivers have shared our frustrations on the existing programmes with these special people who have dedicated their lives to teaching our special children. They are good and helpful people. However, we know that their hands are mostly tied on decisions on the type of curriculum that can or should be taught at these schools. Without funding and the necessary assistance from the government and ministries to spearhead such an initiative, they are like doctors without medicine or medical equipment to help the sick and dying.

Therefore, we as parents/caregivers of children with autism have decided to make a joint appeal to the Singapore government on this matter. We wish to highlight to the Singapore government that there are still children in special schools who are capable of learning and deserve an equal opportunity to access mainstream academic curriculum at special schools. Such children should be allowed to study mainstream academic curriculum that is modified and customized to our ASD children's unique way of learning. Our children should have an equal opportunity to study all subjects (such as English, Chinese, Math, Science, etc) like students in normal schools, albeit at a slower pace. They should also be allowed a choice to keep all or drop some subjects to concentrate on the subject(s) they love or excel in. Longer school hours should be provided to these children, especially since they may require more time to absorb and learn these subjects. Currently, some of these children attend school for only 1.5 to 2 hours a day which is insufficient.
Under Article 24, Clause 2 of the United Nations (UN) "Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities" (adopted on 13 December 2006), we note that "States Parties shall ensure that: (a) Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from......primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability......"

In the same spirit of the above UN convention, we request the Singapore government to support and provide our children with an equal opportunity to access mainstream academic curriculum regardless of their disability and the special schools that they attend.

The Singapore government has pledged that no one will be left behind.

Please do not leave our children behind!


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Nancy BridgesBy:
Politics and GovernmentIn:
Petition target:
Singapore Government

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