Published on 25 Aug 2022

Building Research Evidence for the Implementation of Preschool Inclusion in Singapore and Beyond

The Centre for Research in Child Development (CRCD) hosted the National Institute of Education (NIE) Preschool Inclusion Symposium entitled “Building Research Evidence for the Implementation of Preschool Inclusion in Singapore and Beyond” on 26 July 2022. This symposium represents a major collaboration of the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and CRCD.

The UNC FPG Child Development Institute is one of the most renown and oldest research institute in the USA established with the aim of transforming live of children and families through interdisciplinary research, evaluation, implementation, technical assistance, and outreach.

CRCD has many commonalities with UNC FPG Child Development Institute in terms of its ultimate goal of helping each and every child in Singapore reach their full potential through research in child development to advance knowledge and to inform policies and practices. Both research institutes conduct large scale research and work with stakeholders to promote positive development and educational outcomes for children and facilitate professional development for early childhood educators through symposium such as this.

Held at NIE, the symposium attracted over 120 participants from the ministry, universities, polytechnics, hospitals, preschools, and community service centers, which includes people from the Ministry of Education, National Institute of Early Childhood Development, Early Childhood Development Agency and Singapore Institute of Technology. The professions of the participants ranged from lecturers, researchers, teachers, and principals to psychologists and medical and health care practitioners.

The symposium commenced with Prof Tan Oon Seng’s enthusiastic opening address which he highlighted three key points in relation to inclusive education for children with special developmental needs.

Prof Tan, Director of CRCD, began with a story of the French psychologist Alfred Binet and the genesis of intelligence diagnostic tools to help children learn. He emphasized the importance of assessment to empower children’s learning and a need to believe in the malleability of brain and development. Prof Tan shared how Binet’s tool subsequently was adapted in the USA and later became the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. Whilst an IQ test is a vital tool for diagnosis, it was initially designed to assist those children who could not cope with normal work to receive remediation for improved changes. However, at present day, there are many misconceptions because many used the test results to label and categorize others based on certain levels of IQ. Therefore, Prof Tan reminded the audiences of two important principals in diagnosis: (1) a diagnostic test should always be used to assist individuals in an inclusive way, and (2) a strong belief in the malleability, changeability, and transformability of a child should be present. Teachers, parents, and practitioners need to adopt such kind of attitude when approaching and supporting those children with special needs.

Additionally, Prof Tan drew attention to the importance of building an inclusive community for the special children in Singapore. Using the example from the Kibbutz community in Israel, he talked about how the children with special needs was successfully integrated into the community after closing down all the special needs schools. Professor Reuven Feuerstein, an established psychologist and founder of the Feuerstein Institute, subsequently developed a mediation program to assist children with special needs to discover their talents, some even became famous artists. Taking reference from this case study in Israel, Prof Tan encouraged the participants to bridge of the gap between policy and practice in Singapore to build a more inclusive community.

Then, Prof Tan mentioned that it was a privilege to have two of UNC FPG Child Development Institute’s Senior Technical Assistance Specialists present their work in the symposium. Dr Lim Chih Ing shared her research on various inclusion frameworks and challenges faced in the field of preschool education for children with developmental needs. Dr Megan Vinh discussed the types of data needed to evaluate preschool inclusion program implementation. He also mentioned a presentation by CRCD’s researchers, namely, Assoc Prof Kenneth Poon, Ms Tan Peng Chian and Dr Yang Xueyan. They presented on the perceptions that Singapore teachers and parents has towards inclusion and support provided to children with special needs.  

Prof Tan urged all teachers, parents and practitioners to remember that there is always something special in every child that is awaiting to be discovered. Despite the many complicated factors involved in the process, as long as there is consistent presence to assist the child, there will be many developments and changes seen in them over time. A strong belief system is therefore needed to encourage others to believe in helping the child to grow, transform and to be included. Summing up, a combination of faith, care and love is essential to build a better connection for the children and those involved.

Building Research Evidence Symposium

From left to right: A/P Kenneth Poon, Prof Tan Oon Seng, Dr Lim Chih Ing and Dr Megan Vinh