Supportive Educators Key in Developing Successful Disabled Students | SPD - Singapore

Supportive Educators Key in Developing Successful Disabled Students

As a Tax Officer, 23-year-old Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha has her hands full. She advises and assists businesses in their GST accountability to the IRAS. Every weekend, Syiqah – as she is affectionately known among her friends – trains as a member of a boccia team which is currently part of the Team Singapore contingent competing in the ASEAN ParaGames in Thailand. She is a youth panelist of the Young ChangeMakers (YCM) grant scheme under the National Youth Council, and is empowered to assess project applications and awarding grants to deserving ones that benefit the community. She further mentors successful applicants, giving advice on project publicity, logistics preparations and fundraising methods.

The hectic schedule is a familiar one for the former President of SMU’s Rotaract Club who led a group of 12 in the successful execution of projects to obtain the coveted 2005-2006 Rotaract Presidential Citation. She was also an Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation-SPD Scholar, graduating from SMU with a Bachelor of Accountancy in 2007. But what really places Syiqah a cut above the rest is her accomplishment of all these despite her weak muscles.

Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, Syiqah has trouble even lifting a textbook. Not one to wallow in self-pity, the motorised wheelchair-user is fiercely independent, preferring to do everything on her own. “I may be disabled, but I can still do many things myself. My family’s encouragement and the acceptance of my friends, colleagues and former teachers give me confidence so I can push myself and make things possible,” she said.

Syiqah is one of the first batch of three Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation-SPD Scholars who have recently graduated and found employment. Liew Chong Choon is an Elderly Policy Officer with the MCYS and Cai Zhenquan is a Research & Development Engineer at MINDEF. Both Chong Choon and Zhenquan graduated in 2006.

These scholars may have arrived, but their successes belie the difficult road they took, and many disabled students face, in their educational journey. Inaccessible facilities, unacceptance and a constant reminder of their own inabilities are issues they deal with everyday. On top of that, some experience difficulty in finding a school to accept them despite the availability of accessible features.

The reluctance of educators in accepting disabled children into the school may stem from any one of these obstacles and more: unhappy parents who worry that having a disabled student in their child’s class would slow the class’ academic progress, resentment of overstretched teachers over the extra load a disabled child is perceived to bring to their already full plate, and insufficient support from Special Needs Officers who may not be adequately trained on how to handle and help the disabled students with varied needs.

“When I was registering Dheepan for Primary 1, we were rejected by the school near our home. They said they already had two wheelchair-bound students and it was too troublesome to have another. We finally found one who would accept him but we have to walk for 40 minutes to get there, and another 40 minutes to get back everyday,” said Mrs Susana Cabangisan, whose 12-year-old son Dheepan is diagnosed with arthrogryposis, a muscle disorder that causes multiple joint contractures at birth.

Believing in the importance of mainstream education for disabled children, the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) helps support schools through its SPD Education Programme. “We know that there are principals, teachers and other educators who are apprehensive of having disabled students in their school, yet we see from Syiqah and our other scholars that such students can indeed excel. We believe it is the environment that makes a difference and we hope through our Education Programme to provide support to schools so they in turn can offer a conducive environment for the development of disabled students,” said Ms Chia Yong Yong, Chairperson of the SPD Education Programme Committee.

The SPD Education Programme began in 1985 giving out bursaries to help level the playing field for disabled students and students with disabled parents, who are studying in mainstream schools. Today, it has gone beyond just providing financial assistance to offering a holistic and structured service that sees enrichment programmes being offered during the holidays and social workers and therapists work with educators in various schools on how to handle disabled students and include them in all activities along with the rest of the class.

“In Evergreen Primary School, we believe strongly in not just the hardware but also the heartware in developing our students to the fullest potential. Besides making every part of the school accessible to physically disabled students, the school also worked closely with SPD to conduct training for our staff to equip them with the know-how to help the physically disabled students such as modified PE lessons, correct handling of wheelchairs, the type of medical conditions etc. Despite their disabilities, these students participated actively in all school activities. In fact one child, Loh Jia Wei emerged as top PSLE student in 2007 with a score of 278. She was also a strong Chinese orchestra player. We would like to thank SPD for the strong support in our effort to help these students and we will continue our efforts to ensure that no one is left behind,” said the Principal Mr Tan Kah Teo. Today, there are five disabled students enrolled in the school.

This year, the SPD Education Programme will be giving out close to $240,000 in bursaries to 226 physically disabled students and students with physically disabled parents in an official event to be held at D’tent at Downtown East on 26 January 2008. The bursary is fully sponsored by Wearnes and Southeast CDC with support from ObTech Asia Pacific Pte Ltd. The Guest-of-Honour for the event is RADM (NS) Lui Tuck Yew, Minister of State for Education.

Five Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation-SPD Scholars, three of them new, will also be receiving their scholarship awards at the ceremony. The scholarship awards students with physical disabilities for their outstanding academic achievements to encourage them to aspire to higher levels of educational attainment.

“In Asia Pacific BreweriesFoundation, we believe in discovering and nurturing talents. As such, the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation-SPD Scholarship for persons with disabilities supports physically challenged students with outstanding academic excellence to reach their potential through university studies. We feel that our Scholarship has played an inspiring role for the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation-SPD Scholars to realise their dreams and ambitions, and has also proven that physical disability is not an obstacle in the quest for great achievements for those who desire to succeed. We are very heartened to see how our first graduates set a fantastic example of leading financially independent lives and contributing to society today. The Asia Pacific BreweriesFoundation looks forward to bringing its continuous support to students with disabilities.” said Ms Sarah Koh, spokesperson, Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation.