SINGAPORE — Come January 2023, Pathlight School will operate its second permanent campus in Tampines, complete with an open community space where students can interact with the public.
Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah announced the development on Friday (26 July), adding that the special education school's (SPED) upcoming grounds will accommodate around 500 primary-level students with autism to meet “growing demand”.
Currently, about 1,400 primary, secondary and vocational track students are placed across Pathlight’s first permanent campus at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 and its interim campus at Ang Mo Kio Street 44.
The latter will continue to operate when the new campus, located at Tampines Street 91 on the site of the former East View Primary School, opens in 2023.
Speaking at Pathlight’s Ang Mo Kio permanent campus, Indranee stressed that one key consideration for choosing where to site SPED schools and campuses is whether they will facilitate integration, such as joint activities, with mainstream schools.
Its Tampines campus, for instance, is close to mainstream schools such as Junyuan Primary School and St Hilda's Primary School.
"This is important because such interaction and integration will give our youth a better understanding of special needs and equip them to interact with each other," she added.
One example would be Yio Chu Kang Secondary School's Secondary One orientation this year, where Pathlight students helped plan and execute.
“Promoting inclusivity is not just about physical buildings. It is really about changing mindsets - so that we do not see those with special educational needs as ‘other’ but simply as people like us who just happen to have different needs,” stressed Indranee.
Like its existing campuses, the new school grounds will have facilities similar to mainstream schools, in addition to specialised ones to cater to students with autism. These include an indoor sports hall, therapy rooms and computer labs.
The Tampines campus could also have worksites to provide vocational training for older Pathlight students, such as the Professor Brawn Cafe at its Ang Mo Kio permanent campus, which was launched on Friday.
With space for up to 80 people, the social enterprise cafe is Pathlight’s first inclusive worksite opened to the public - and operates from 9am to 9pm Monday through Saturday.
The cafe is the second outlet under the Professor Brawn brand in Singapore, after it came under the Autism Resource Centre (ARC)’s management. The first cafe was opened in July last year at Raffles Institution where half of its staff have special needs, but it only caters to the school’s staff and students.
Opening the Pathlight cafe to the public will ensure that students are “exposed to the rigours and real-life demands in the work environment”, said Pathlight's school supervisor and ARC president Denise Phua, who described the cafe as a significant addition to the school’s curriculum.
The cafe offers a five-month unpaid internship for up to 50 students per year, who will undergo structured training during curriculum hours or after school hours under the guidance of "job coaches".
Since its soft opening last month, 10 final-year vocational track students have begun their training at the cafe. Secondary 3 and 4 students who are in Pathlight’s GCE academic track will also be able to intern or undergo training stints in the cafe.
The interns work alongside a group of 10 full-time staff and trainees, half of whom are adults on the autism spectrum linked up by the Employability and Employment Centre, a service under the ARC.
As they learn the ropes of the F&B business as a cashier, barista or a food runner, they pick up “transferrable (skills) that are useful for all jobs and across industries”, such as customer service, money handling and property maintenance, said Phua.
Other tasks such as inventory planning, retail services and digital marketing will be added to the training at the cafe, which is integrated with Pathlight’s The Art Faculty storefront.
Phua added, "(Students) can then move on to actual work or partake in the 'School to Work' transition programme, a multi-agency collaboration with the Ministry of Education, SG Enable and the Ministry of Social and Family Development, in partnership with SPED schools."
Indranee stressed that Singapore should move towards a place where employing one with disabilities becomes the norm.
“While SPED education is now more widely available, an issue which currently needs much greater attention is what will happen to our students once they graduate from school,” she said.
One in 150 children here has autism, a higher rate than the World Health Organisation's global figure of one in 160 children, according to the government's third Enabling Masterplan unveiled late 2016.
“Whether it be big corporations, small or medium-sized enterprises, social enterprises or sole proprietorships, we hope many more employers will extend internships and employment to students from our SPED schools as well as students with special educational needs from our Institutes of Higher Learning,” Indranee added.
Jamie Goh, 20, a final-year vocational track student at Pathlight, is currently training at the cafe as a food runner.
“I have grown to become more confident in approaching customers and interacting with (those) from all walks of life,” she said.
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