SINGAPORE — More vocational skills training options will open up for special needs students with varying profiles and needs, easing their entry into the workforce, under a two-year pilot announced by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.
The move, the latest in a slew of social and education initiatives targeting this group, could also resolve a bind currently faced by special needs students who are unable to get vocational certifications.
Speaking at the official opening of the Association for Persons with Special Needs’ (APSN) Delta Senior School’s new campus yesterday, Mr Heng said there are plans to provide alternative training pathways for more special education students.
Noting that the national vocational certification programmes currently offered by Delta Senior School and Metta School are the only established pathway for a small group of students — those with mild intellectual disabilities — to be gainfully employed, Mr Heng added: “The idea is to provide customised job opportunities and training that are designed based on the students’ diverse profiles and needs.”
Under the school-to-work transition pilot, which will be offered in selected special education (SPED) schools initially but rolled out to more schools eventually, the majority of special needs students could continue receiving vocational skills training in their schools after they turn 18.
Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua, a vocal advocate for special needs education, welcomed the programme and said it will expand the pool of work-capable graduates from SPED schools. She went as far as to describe the move as the slaying of a sacred cow.
“The pilot programme will allow students who are assessed to have the potential to do some form of work, but may not be able to earn a work certificate, to be trained too,” she said. “They may not stay as long as two to three years for a work certificate, but they are likely to be given a longer runway to be trained for work, instead of exiting at the age of 18.”
During the Budget debate last month, the Ministry of Education had unveiled initiatives such as expanding the dyslexia remediation programme to more primary schools, as well as setting up Disability Support Offices and a Special Education Needs fund at higher learning institutes, as part of efforts to bring out the best in every child, even among special needs students.
The pilot programme will be developed through a multi-agency working committee from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable.
Although more details will be announced by his ministry later, Mr Heng said yesterday the programme will begin in a student’s final year of school and continue after he graduates, even after he takes on a job. He added that there are also plans to offer the programme in more SPED schools, in phases, from 2016. At present, through the national vocational certification programmes, one in four SPED school graduates secures jobs.
Delta Senior School currently offers Workforce Skills Qualification certification in Food and Beverage Operations and Culinary Arts, Hotel and Accommodation Services, Landscape Operations and Retail Operations, where more than 90 per cent of graduates are employed today.
Its new S$18 million campus in Choa Chu Kang will offer industrial kitchens and mock-ups of work sites — such as a Giant supermarket — among other facilities.
Metta School offers ITE Skills Certification in areas such as baking, housekeeping, food preparation and hospitality.
Ms Phua cited some challenges the committee will have to address. For instance, they will have to determine where to set the bar for assessing the work capabilities of special needs students.
“If set too low, there is the risk of finally having no employers willing to employ the students. If set too high, the impact of the pilot will be small,” she said.
They will also have to manage the likelihood of families who may insist their children are work-ready.
For those who are unsuitable for open or supported employment, the authorities may have to co-create other options with other stakeholders, she added.