Remarks By Guest-Of-Honour Deputy Prime Minister And Minister For Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam At Dyslexia Association Of Singapore Gala Fundraising Dinner08 Sep 2012
Mrs Goh Chok Tong, Patron of the DAS
Dr Jimmy Daruwalla, DAS President
Executive Committee members, supporters, sponsors and friends of the DAS
1. I am delighted to join you as you celebrate your 21st anniversary, and to congratulate the DAS on your excellent work in support of dyslexic people. I was very pleased to see the displays of successful dyslexic students who have gone on to achieve personal success. Their success is testament to the good work of the DAS.
2. Over the years, DAS has built a strong professional reputation in the management of dyslexia with services that include teaching, assessment and diagnosis, training and support for parents and teachers. It has developed a multi-disciplinary team of professionals including educational therapists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and specialist psychologists. It has also recognised that dyslexic children often have accompanying difficulties. Hence DAS has expanded its services to become an organisation for Specific Learning Differences - which includes dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, specific language impairments and others. Further, I note that DAS now provides services to help younger children at the preschool age, as well as a remediation programme for young offenders at the Singapore Boys’ Home. These are excellent examples of what we can all do to build a society that is inclusive, where everyone feels that they have a real chance of succeeding in life.
DAS Pilot Chinese programme
3. Research findings in the last decade indicate that people can be dyslexic in one language but not another. This is an important issue for us in Singapore. In particular, dyslexia in Chinese, a character-based language, appears to be quite distinct from that in English. Instead of facing problems in converting letters to sounds, Chinese language dyslexics have difficulties extrapolating from a symbol's shape to its sound and meaning. Chinese dyslexia is also more complex. (In technical terms, the research suggests that developmental dyslexia in the Chinese language is a combination of two disorders: a “visuospatial deficit” and a “phonological disorder”. Treatment may therefore be more effective if it tackles both disorders, visual as well as phonological. For most English-speaking children with dyslexia, relating sounds to letters is the major hurdle so treatment is unlikely to change. English dyslexia on the other hand consists of a phonological disorder, ie a difficulty in relating sounds to letters.)
4. I am glad to see that DAS is responding to these children’s needs by introducing the DAS Pilot Chinese programme, which will explore ways to better help dyslexic children to enjoy the Chinese language and to overcome some of their difficulties. This will be launched in January 2013.
5. We have to continue to do research in Chinese language dyslexia, and develop effective remedies to help children with this problem during their early learning years.
Strengthening regional networks
6. I am glad too that DAS is also strengthening networks within the regional dyslexia community. In the past six years, DAS has conducted teaching seminars in Brunei, Indonesia and Hong Kong. It has also provided assessment to children in Cebu and Bali earlier this year. DAS has certainly developed an increasing reputation which has attracted the interest of similar interest groups in the region. I commend you on these efforts to share the expertise you have built up.
Government support for dyslexic children
7. The Government has been working actively with DAS and supporting its initiatives since 2005. MOE has increased schools’ capacity to support students with mild special needs (including dyslexia, autism and ADHD) through the deployment of Allied Educators (Learning and Behavioural Support) and by developing up to 20% of teachers to become Teachers trained in Special Needs (TSNs).
8. Further, to help dyslexic students in mainstream schools who need more intensive support, MOE provides DAS with an annual grant to fund their specialised remediation programme for these students. In addition to the annual grant, needy students enrolled in DAS’ remediation programme can also apply for fee subsidies made available by MOE. With the implementation of the revised Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) for needy students who are enrolled at DAS learning centres, we have increased subsidies as well as doubled our reach to cover students from up to the 80th percentile of household incomes.
9. The changing school environment will continue to benefit dyslexic students. Our primary schools are getting new facilities that will better support the specific learning needs of different groups of students (this was one of the outcomes of MOE’s ‘PERI’ Committee’s recommendations). These include redesigned classrooms, subject-based banding rooms and learning support rooms. In addition, schools are also provided with a learning behavioural support intervention room, aimed at providing dedicated support for the children with special educational needs, including that of our dyslexic students, enrolled in our mainstream schools.
Tackling learning difficulties early
10. The collaboration between DAS and MOE all these years is a key pillar in our efforts to help pupils with dyslexia to enjoy their learning and stretch their potential.
11. I’m sure MOE’s collaboration with DAS will be equally useful as we move our efforts upstream, to tackle the difficulties that children may have before they get to primary school. We will be doing more to develop the specialised capabilities, undertake research and train professionals, so as to address specific learning difficulties earlier in a child’s life.
12. I would like to once again thank Dr Daruwalla and his team for their efforts over the years. You have developed DAS into an organisation with high professional standards and a broad range of services for dyslexic persons. I wish you many more good years ahead!