Every child is born unique with different sets of strengths and abilities. Some children may struggle with learning difficulties and require additional help more than others. Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has taken progressive steps to serve the well-being of children aged six through 15 with special educational needs (SEN). This article seeks to raise awareness of SEN in Singapore, and offer support to families who have chosen — or are exploring — to homeschool their child with SEN.
What defines Special Educational Needs (SEN) in Singapore?
According to the MOE, a child is considered to have SEN when he/she:
- Has a disability; AND
- Requires different and/or additional resources beyond what is generally available for the majority of same-aged children; AND
- Shows either:
- More difficulty learning as compared to the majority of same-aged children; OR
- Difficulty using educational facilities catered for the majority of same-aged children; OR
- Some areas of impairment, in terms of social, academic, physical, or sensory functioning.
When the Compulsory Education (CE) Act was first introduced in 2000, national primary education became mandatory for all Singaporean citizens from above the age of six until under the age of 15. This included children with “mild” SEN as they were deemed to have the “cognitive abilities and adequate adaptive skills” to learn in large-group settings. These children must attend mainstream primary schools, and either attain PSLE results that would qualify them to progress to secondary school or until they turn 15 (MOE, 2021).
In 2019, the CE Act extended coverage to children with “moderate to severe” SEN. Those who were born on or after 1 January 2012 must complete or continue their enrolment in one of Singapore’s 19 Special Education (SPED) schools until they turn 15 (MOE, 2021).
As of September 2019, according to a report by Channel News Asia, there were at least 32,000 students with special needs in Singapore, 80 percent (or 25,600) of them displayed mild learning needs and attended mainstream schools, including those diagnosed with dyslexia, mild autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The remaining 20 percent (or 6,400), with moderate to severe needs, attended one of 19 SPED schools in Singapore, which are run by social service organisations (Choo, 2019).
Credit must be given to the MOE, authorities and teachers of mainstream schools and SPED schools who have been stepping up holistic measures to support children with special needs. To some extent, SEN children who attend public schools get to enjoy a social learning environment with peers of similar ages. However, not all would thrive in traditional classroom methods. Given the range of SEN in children across preschool through the secondary years, there remains the lack of specialised attention, trained teachers and professional services to fully address the various needs of these children. Not to mention that specialised schools typically come at a much heftier cost than mainstream schools. These are just some of the many important considerations to grapple with for the physical, social, emotional and mental well-being of children with learning difficulties.
Exploring Homeschooling for Children with SEN
Apart from sending your special needs child to national schools or SPED schools, parents may consider homeschooling as an option. There are several benefits of homeschooling children with special needs. HomeschoolSingapore Editor-in-Chief Kalsum Harun currently homeschools her teenage child with SEN, and lists some of the advantages that she gathered from her experience:
- Allows flexible timing
- Accommodates movement and hands-on learning
- Gives the child agency as a learner
- Provides space to develop executive function
- Cultivates confidence and self-awareness
At the same time, she also cautions that there are crucial considerations for homeschooling children with special needs, such as differentiated learning pathways, which parents need to fully understand. Reflecting on her experience, Kalsum shares:
Initially I thought that the personalised attention given to my child with SEN through homeschooling meant that I did not have to intentionally address his specific learning challenges. Through trial and error and much tears shed between us, I realised how that was far from the truth. Today, he is a thriving and confident teenager. I am now passionate about special needs education and issues of special needs in general, because I want to ensure that other parents are equipped to steer their children from the undesirable trajectories arising from undiagnosed and unmanaged conditions.Kalsum Harun, Editor-in-Chief
Get a sneak peek of the support you can get and the people you can meet at the upcoming Homeschool Convention 2022 – Asia Edition! For the first time, the Curriculum Fair of the Homeschool Convention features a Special Education Needs Segment that will be helmed by parents from the community!
Homeschool Support for SEN
If you are homeschooling a child with SEN and looking for a like-minded community to journey alongside families with SEN children in gentle and practical ways, we are here to support you!
Check out any or all of the following free resources that can help you along the way:
- *EVENT SPECIAL* SEN Segment @ Homeschool Curriculum Fair 2022
- *EVENT SPECIAL* SEN Explorer’s Chat
- Homeschool SEN Community Support Group
1. *EVENT SPECIAL* SEN Segment @ Homeschool Curriculum Fair 2022
The Homeschool Curriculum Fair 2022 will be featuring a series of Zoom talks about SEN on Saturday, 9 April 2022. It involves an initial one-on-one 20-minute introduction and Q&A session. The talks aim to help families with SEN children navigate their options, and offer practical advice across a spectrum of SEN. Be informed on the range of schooling choices in Singapore, especially if you are considering homeschooling. What does it mean to homeschool your child with SEN? What does it take? Join us to find out.
Date: Saturday, 9 April 2022
Venue: Online via Zoom (See Slides 8-12 for Zoom links)
Registration: Not required
Tickets: This is a free public event
A. Considerations for Homeschooling Children with Special Needs
by Kalsum Harun & Sandra Chan
1:00-1:40 PM SGT
Kalsum Harun, homeschooling mother of three, presents the considerations and implications of the schooling choices for neurodivergent learners in Singapore, with a focus on homeschooling. Sandra Chan, homeschooling mother of two, talks about the application process to seek exemption from Compulsory Education for Singaporean children with special needs. At the end of this talk, you may wish to follow up with one of the following two sessions below covering practical tips for homeschooling children with either mild special needs (with Jacinta Zavier) or moderate to severe special needs (with Apple Teoh).
B. Homeschooling Children with Mild Special Education Needs
#ADHD #Dyspraxia #Dyslexia #MildTourette’s #SlowProcessingSkills
by Jacinta Zavier & Kalsum Harun
2:00-2:40 PM SGT
Jacinta Zavier shares how she helps her child with dyslexia to overcome problems with reading. Specifically, she will delve into two useful resources: All About Reading and Spelling and Dianne Craft. Kalsum Harun offers a glimpse into how she manages homeschooling her child with multiple neurological developmental challenges. If you are a parent of Singaporean children who are homeschooling under the mild SEN regime, or homeschooling children with multiple neurological development challenges, this session is for you!
C. Homeschooling Children with Moderate to Severe Special Education Needs
by Apple Teoh & Sandra Chan
2:00-2:40 PM SGT
Apple Teoh recounts her beautiful journey in homeschooling her child with Down Syndrome, along with two older siblings. Sandra Chan explains how she has been implementing the Individualised Education Plan (IEP) for her child with Autism. If you are a parent of Singaporean children who are homeschooling under the moderate to severe SEN regime, or homeschooling children with Down Syndrome or Autism, this session is for you!
D. Self-Regulation & Brain Activation for Learning: A Mum’s Journey
#GlobalDevelopmentDelay #VerbalApraxia #Dyslexia #Dysgraphia #Dyscalculia
by Hsiao Bond
11:00-11:40 AM SGT
Hear from Hsiao Bond, founder of Neural Connections and mother of two. She homeschooled one of them who displayed Global Development Delay (GDD), Verbal Apraxia, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia, among other SEN conditions. She is a former teacher in public and international schools in New Zealand, Taipei and Singapore, with over 20 years of experience working with children with various learning differences. Learn about her journey and practical tips to support special needs learning at home through self-regulation, brain activation, movement, neuroplasticity, sensory development, and more.
E. Executing Functioning: Organizing My Brain
#GlobalDevelopmentDelay #Autism #ADHD #CerebralPalsy #Dyslexia #PhonologicalAwareness #ReadingDifficulties
by Lau Cheng Ling (Olive Tree Development Center)
12:00-12:40 PM SGT
Lau Cheng Ling is a Senior Educational Therapist at Olive Tree Development Center. This talk teaches families to understand and incorporate Executive Functioning skills in daily life activities from preschool through 6th grade. Cheng Ling graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Early Childhood Education & Leadership, holds a Master of Science in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol, and is a graduate member of the British Psychological Society. She has clinical experience working with children, ranging from 18 months to six years old, with developmental disorders such as Autism, ADHD, Global Development Delay, and Cerebral Palsy. She has collaborated with preschool through school-aged children and therapists to design the Individual Education Plan (IEP), and manage their development in mainstream, integrated and early intervention settings, both in school and at home. She is also trained by the University of Utah Reading Clinic and attained a Certificate in Dyslexia and Literacy Teaching from the Dyslexia Association of Singapore to teach children with dyslexia, phonological awareness and reading difficulties.
2. *EVENT SPECIAL* SEN Explorer’s Chat
Date: Flexible; based on mutually preferred timing
Registration: Slots are limited. Register here.
Tickets: This is a free service
In the spirit of the Homeschool Curriculum Fair, the SEN Explorer’s Chat component was introduced this year, helmed by homeschool parent-volunteers who have experienced homeschooling their children. Parents who wish to know more about SEN homeschooling may wish to arrange a longer, follow-up chat on a separate occasion over Zoom or voice call. If you have at least two years of experience homeschooling special needs children and wish to volunteer, please reach out!
Hear from some of our volunteers about their background and stories below:
Sue is an experienced teacher and counsellor with more than 20 years in the field of education. She obtained her Post-Graduate Diploma with the Ministry of Education and subsequently obtained a Masters in Pastoral Counselling. Sue is skilled in the Yoshimoto Orton-Gillingham Approach and is certified to teach students with dyslexia. She was a former special needs consultant with the Ministry of Education.
In Jonnansical’s experience, homeschooling her child with autism has been an interesting journey that involves much patience, understanding and hope. Customising a child’s learning journey requires mindfulness and help. Her advice to parents with children of similar needs is to be brave to seek and be open to ask.
Jeffrey has a visually impaired teenage daughter whom he has been homeschooling for more than a year. As it was difficult for the local education system to customise learning and cater to her needs, Jeffrey decided to take things into his own hands. With experience in running a childcare centre and interacting with different children, Jeffrey believes that every child develops at their own pace with their own strengths and weaknesses. Initially, his daughter had great difficulty with spelling throughout her schooling years. After homeschooling her and giving her the space and time to develop certain parts of her brain, she was able to remember her spelling very well, much to Jeffrey’s pleasant surprise.
Prior to homeschooling, Tina Simons was a primary teacher in American public and international schools. As she watched her twin boys develop and heard some comments by teachers that they seemed immature, she decided to homeschool, striving to create an environment to help the twins achieve their potential without pressure to perform at other children’s pace. The boys were formally diagnosed with ADHD in lower primary school. Now that they are in their early secondary years and attending an online academy, Tina continues to help build the scaffolds that the boys need for daily academic success. She loves to help others (and herself!) by listening well and encouraging parents and children to give themselves grace as they grow step by step at their own pace.
A mother of three, Vivian currently homeschools her eldest son who has autism in his early primary years. Her family did so because they wished to customise what and how he learns. While recognising that homeschooling can be a daunting task, she is passionate about sharing what a rewarding journey it can be for both parents and their children.
Doctor turned homeschooling mummy of three, Cheryl has been on a journey of ups and downs since the birth of her first son who is deaf and autistic. Through the years, she realised that only a child’s parents can truly know a child and figure out the best way to help him grow. Despite the challenges of homeschooling and the inevitable chaos of having littles at home, Cheryl is thankful for having a front row seat to her children’s growth, sharing their joy of learning and guiding them through difficult moments.
3. Homeschool SEN Community Support Group
The Homeschool SEN Community Support Group is an ever-growing, vibrant and close-knit group on WhatsApp for parents who are homeschooling their children with SEN to seek mutual encouragement, exchange ideas and share advice and resources. We welcome current and prospective homeschooling parents of SEN children to join us on this journey. If interested, please contact Apple Teoh.
If you wish to contribute a testimony on working with SEN children, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos featured in this article have been granted permission for use by respective owners.