Just Like You and Me

 Are our schools conducive enough for Special Education Needs (SEN) students? Nur Sabrina looks into the issue of including disabled students in mainstream schools.  

Photo taken from Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School (CPASS) website.

Nur Sabrina
People Section Editor
Hype Issue #53

Published on
July 5, 2021

Imagine you sprained your ankle in school and had to get to class which was located on the third floor. You hopped your way to the elevator with the help of your friends and it took forever. 

 Let’s not forget to mention that there is only one elevator, and it was a far and troublesome journey. If you thought that one incident was unfortunate for you and wished that the school had more ramps or maybe another elevator, imagine what our handicapped peers have to go through every single day. 

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Photo taken from Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School (CPASS) website.

It is undeniable that Singapore is a well developed country, but how far along are we in providing an inclusive education for our disabled and handicapped children?

 It was only two years ago when the Ministry of Education (MOE) extended their Compulsory Education Act to students with special needs. Though Special Education (SPED) schools exist to cater for these students, some parents are opting to enrol their kids in mainstream public schools. 

 Mr Mohamed Hairil Asraf Bin Mohamed Nasir, 32, has been teaching at Riverside Primary School for the past six years. A student that he taught for a year was wheelchair-bound.

 When asked about the student’s struggles, Mr Hairil mentioned going to classrooms located at different levels when the elevator was not working and space constraints as the classrooms were not spacious, making it difficult for the student to move around easily. 

 Mr Hairil’s student is not the only one who faced this struggle. Mdm Ernie Bte Abdul Rahman, 45, a teacher from Holy Innocents’ High, shared her experience educating a handicapped student.

 “They have to climb up the stairs. Those from [the] fourth floor will change to [the] second floor classroom. There’s no lift,” Mdm Ernie said.

SPED schools are located all over the island to ensure every child gets to learn, no matter the disability they face. There are different kinds of SPED schools for different disabilities. Most of the schools cater for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The others are for children with intellectual disability, sensory impairment or students with more than one disability. 

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Photo taken from Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School (CPASS) website.

Raising a child who needs more care, attention and love would also require more financial stability. Thus, much help will be provided monetarily. For example, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) came up with the Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) to provide subsidies for equipment and accessories such as wheelchairs and hearing aids.

Travelling with a disability or a disabled child in public transport may also be more challenging. Those affected are eligible for the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Concession Card. Card holders can enjoy 25 per cent or more off adult fare and other benefits. 


By now, there should have been improvements in terms of school facilities and lessons to cater for these students. 

“Most, if not all, schools should have an elevator,” Mr Hairil says. “Lessons, especially, are modified to cater [for] the students’ needs.”

Ms Nur Azrin Bte Abdullah, 33, taught in Singapore for almost six and a half years. 

“We had a student with degenerative bone disease,” she said. “Our ramps are built around areas necessary for him to move around. We have lifts in the school.”

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Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Convention Centre has a wheelchair platform lift catered for those who need them. Photo by Nur Sabrina.

Despite our progress as a nation, do our students with disabilities truly feel like public schools are up to standard?

In their shoes

Chang Jing Wen Carmellia, 19, a student, suffered from a patella dislocation back in 2016 due to a congenital patellar luxation issue.

“When I had my first dislocation, I was unable to attend school for the first few weeks and could only stay at home to rest,” said Carmellia. “When I went back to school, I had to take the lift and mobility was limited since I had to rely on my friends to help me move around.”

Carmellia also added that she faced issues getting around the school as “some places were really small” for her wheelchair. 

Though her school had an elevator, there were times where she had to force herself to climb the stairs when the elevator was undergoing repairs. Since there was only one elevator, she had to wait 10 to 20 minutes during peak periods just to get to class. 

As if these struggles weren’t enough, Carmellia was put in an unwanted spotlight.

“Since I was in a wheelchair, it was inevitable that people were staring so it was uncomfortable for me at some point in time too,” she said.

Koh Shi Jing Nicolette, 20, a hearing-impaired student of Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), also faced similar issues as a Special Education Needs (SEN) student. 

“During primary school, I went to a mainstream school and I had difficulties coping as a SEN student. I recall there was only one counsellor for special needs. Support for SEN students was not so good back then in 2009,” she said. 

Apart from that, Nicolette was also excluded from activities in school, causing her to be an introvert. 

“Initially when I joined NP in Year One, there weren’t any SEN counsellors. But [from] Year Two onwards, two new SEN counsellors have joined our school, which is great progress,” she added, mentioning how being in NP has helped her regain her confidence.

It is great to see how schools and learning institutions have improved themselves to ensure a much more conducive learning environment for students like Carmellia and Nicolette. More are also aware of these students’ conditions and have learned to put differences aside to learn and grow side by side.

Nicolette is also one of the vice-presidents of NP Supportify (NPSF)

“I felt the need to create this group because I felt there wasn’t much sense of community among the SEN students and although there are a few sessions that the school sets up, it is not consistent and thus the bond isn’t really there,” Nicolette said. 

NPSF also allows them to create support groups to help those in the same journey. Students would be able to find others who have shared the same experiences.

In our society

The teachers agreed that our society has progressed well in terms of accepting the disabled. Almost everywhere we go, there are ramps next to stairs. 

Malls and other public areas are easily accessible by those in wheelchairs. SPED schools such as Pathlight School and CPASS ensure that students with special needs receive the education that they deserve.

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One of the SPED schools, Rainbow Centre (Yishun), caters for children and youths with disabilities such as autism and intellectual disability. Photo by Nur Sabrina.

Towards a better and brighter future

By bringing awareness and providing ways to empower the disabled, they would live in a more accepting society where seeing them in a workplace is normal.

The Movement for the Intellectually Disabled Singapore (MINDS) has made sure of that.

MINDS has been providing training and employment services for the disabled to prepare them for the future and integrate them into society. Students trained at MINDS are offered internship positions at fast food restaurants and even Shangri-La Hotel.

MOE has also planned to open new campuses for seven of the SPED schools from 2022 onwards, to allow easy accessibility for students. By providing quality and affordable education for them, their career paths would be much more open. They will have a better shot for the future. 

The government, too, has re-analysed their budget to support integrating the disabled into the workforce in 2017. According to The Straits Times, an estimate of $400 million will be spent per year for this initiative. Training programmes have also been made available for this employment scheme.

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Photo taken from CPASS website.

These students are no different from us. Singapore has come a long way in accepting and providing for those in need. Though our progress is remarkable, we still have much more to do for these students and those with disabilities. The first step starts with us.

Like what Mr Hairil has said: “The only thing that can be done is to provide more exposure to people who are physically disabled… [and train] teachers so that they are more prepared in terms of communication and modifying lessons when they encounter such students.”