Fifteen year old sprinter Nurshalini Shanef’s victory in the 200m F2 division brought smiles of pride to Singaporeans as he clinched Singapore’s first gold medal in the Special Olympics on Sunday (March 17).
The team walked away with one gold, two silvers and three bronze medals on day three of the competition at the Special Olympics World Games held in Dubai.
A sports competition for athletes with disabilities, the Special Olympic World Games kicked off on March 14 and will finish on March 21. This is Singapore’s 10th year at the event with 30 athletes competing in different divisions.
“We are proud of the athletes’ performances today – from clocking personal best times to putting up good showings when up against opponents who were sometimes bigger and taller,” added Singapore’s head of delegation Lee Theng Ngee. “They have shown determination and focus.”
With the recent success of Team Singapore not just in sports but also in showing the world the capabilities of Singaporean nationals with special needs, is the country ready to prove that it is an inclusive society?
Singapore society and inclusive education
Notwithstanding Singapore’s substantial progress in raising public awareness and providing more centres for children with special needs, a survey of early intervention (EI) professionals in 2018 revealed that only 11% think that Singapore is an inclusive society.
The figure from the survey conducted by philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation stands in stark contrast to previous poll results with parents of children with special needs (28%) and the general public (30%).
In another survey, 8 in 10 individuals said inclusive education is vital in creating an inclusive society, and a majority of 71% felt that while this group of children could equally benefit from inclusive education, there are still several hurdles to overcome.
Topping the list of barriers as cited by professionals include a lack of resources for mainstream school teachers to attend to children with special needs (66%), an education system that places high emphasis on standardised tests such as the PSLE (58%), and mainstream teachers who are not sufficiently trained (58%).
Mr. J R Karthikeyan, social service organisation AWWA’s senior director of disability and inclusion said that training early childhood teachers in mainstream pre-schools to work with children with special needs is a “stepping stone to creating inclusive education.”
“For Singapore to inch closer to being an inclusive society, we need to shift mindsets to accept and celebrate diverse abilities,” he said.
Ever since 2007, the government has made public three Enabling Masterplans. These are the road maps for Singapore to build a more inclusive society where persons with disabilities or special needs are empowered and enabled to realise their true potential.
The recent five-year Enabling Masterplan which will see Singapore through 2021 incorporates the inputs of close to 500 stakeholders.
The plan highlights the pivotal needs and strategies to address gaps in each major milestone of the lives of persons with special needs in the country.
Special needs in policy-making
There has to be a call to ask government agencies to guarantee that their plans will include the special-needs community most especially in their major policy planning. Such inclusion must be made in the fields of education, smart nation, healthcare, transport, housing and all other essential services.
In a fast paced society there is a tendency to leave out people with special needs. It is in this unstable, capricious, multifaceted, and uncertain environment that more care and effort has to be made not to leave them out.