Lifelong Learning for Singapore’s Children with Special Needs

Minds centre, kid reading programme – Photo by MINDS Raintree


Written by Melissa Sugiarta

With special thanks to Ms. Linda Poh and Ms. Ong Lay Hoon for the insightful conversation

Lifelong learning should not be a privilege. It should be a right.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda to “Leave no one behind” is a reflection of that right. 1To leave no one behind is to ensure that no one lacks the choices and opportunities to participate in and benefit from development, including in learning. Equality and non-discrimination in education environments should, therefore, be the right of every person.

Progressively aligning with the United Nations 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind in terms of education, Singapore has continuously shown its progress in making education a right for children with Special Education Needs (SEN). In 2019, the ministry of education has made it mandatory for children with moderate to severe special needs to attend government-funded Special Education (SPED) schools2, supporting families with special needs children in receiving equal opportunities in education.

Despite the rights to special education schools, there are some blind spots in the quality of learning beyond school as these children reach 18 years of age. The transition period from childhood to adulthood is one phase where we can expect many changes happening in our lives. In their education milestone, a special needs child would experience a change in their learning community from school to training centres for their vocational education. At this stage of vocational education3, the government offers a School-to-Work (S2W) Transition Programme, providing a customised employment training pathway during the child’s final year of school extending for up to 1 year after their graduation.

MINDS Raintree centre – Photo by MINDS Raintree

One of the blind spots in this transition period of school to training centres lies in the transition of profile data of the child. This profile includes any important information that new teachers or training staff need to know about the child such as their communication habits or their eating preparations, and more. In the case that the child needs to have their food cut up in pieces before eating, this serves as important profile data for the staff to help the child do so before serving them their food. Otherwise, the child might choke on the food.

Cases like this have happened before as a result of the child’s data being overlooked in the training centres. Parents of these children are concerned for the safety of their child as to how differently their child was treated in school and in the training centre after 18 years old. This comes down to underpaid staff in the training centres as well as insufficient training for educators and nonteaching staff on the right to inclusive education4. Furthermore, when the profile data of a special needs child is passed on from one learning community to another, it is important to highlight that every child is unique. Therefore, the profile data of each child should be studied carefully and with care for the safety and comfort of the child.

Educational support towards special needs children is impactful when the people supporting them are well-educated themselves. While parents and teachers or learning staff directly interact with these children on a regular basis, the collective attitude of the public influences how these parents and teachers interact with these children. In this sense, everyone plays a part in the level of inclusiveness in special education systems. Therefore, public awareness especially in Singapore’s society is just as important as quality training for staff and educators in the case of special needs education.

What can we do? There are 3 main barriers  we can overcome individually and collectively in our communities. 5 In terms of physical barriers, buildings, transportation, toilets and playgrounds should be accessible for special needs children such as wheelchair users. In communication and information barriers,  textbooks, teaching methods, and other learning materials should be made available in Braille and sign language interpretation. In terms of attitudinal barriers, we can prevent behaviours from others and ourselves that lead to stereotyping, low expectations, pity, condescension, harassment and bullying towards special needs persons. By keeping these 3 points in mind and in practice, we are creating a more righteous learning environment for every special needs child.

Building an inclusive learning environment ensures that these groups of children are not left behind in Singapore’s move towards a society with non-discrimination and equality. The 4th Sustainable Development Goal stands by quality education, meaning lifelong learning opportunities for all. Consistency in the quality of curriculum, staff, teachers, and community is needed for the goal of quality lifelong learning.

Where is your safe space? If you were a special needs child, would your safe space be your school and your training centre? The answer to this question should determine how far Singapore’s special needs education system has come, and how far left it has to go.



1 United Nations. (n.d.). Office of the united nations high commissioner for human rights. Maximizing the use of the Universal Periodic Review at country level – PRACTICAL GUIDANCE. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from

2 Ming, T. E. (2016, November 16). Moe extends compulsory education to children with special needs. TODAY. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from

3 SG Enable. (n.d.). Education – disability support: Enabling guide. I’m Looking For Disability Support – Education. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from

4 United Nations. (2022, October 5). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Concluding observations on the initial report of Singapore. Universal human rights index – human rights recommendations. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from

5 UNICEF. (n.d.). Children with disabilities. UNICEF – Disabilities. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from

6 UNICEF. (2021, February 17). SDG goal 4: Quality Education. UNICEF DATA. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from

7 Ministry of Education Singapore. (2022, May 10). Understand your child’s special educational needs. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from

8 Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2022, August 17). Enabling masterplan 2030 – working together towards an inclusive … Enabling Masterplan 2030 – Working Together Towards An Inclusive Singapore. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from

9 Ministry of Education Singapore. (2023, March 8). Special education (SPED) schools. MOE. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from

10 Ministry of Education Singapore. (2022, March 28). Explore your child’s educational journey. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from

1 Comment

  1. Loved this article. Very insightful. Great topic to write, even better writer. Thoroughly impressed.

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