SINGAPORE – To meet an increase in demand for primary level places, Pathlight School will open a new campus in Tampines in January 2023 which can take in 500 pupils with autism spectrum disorder.

This is in addition to its main school in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 and its interim campus in Ang Mo Kio Street 44.

The new campus was announced by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah on Friday (July 26) at the main school.

The two existing campuses cater to 1,400 primary, secondary and vocational level students with autism spectrum disorder and possibly moderate to severe special education needs. The number includes 1,001 primary pupils.

The new campus will be built in Tampines Street 91 on a site previously occupied by East View Primary School.

The location was selected based on the geographical distribution of Pathlight’s current demand and the site’s close proximity to mainstream schools like Junyuan Primary School and St Hilda’s Primary School, said the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Pathlight students and their peers in mainstream schools will have opportunities to interact through joint activities.

Such interaction and integration will give the youth a better understanding of people with special needs and equip them with skills to interact with one another, said Ms Indranee in her speech. “As the students grow in empathy, our society will grow in inclusivity,” she added.

An example of collaboration was when Yio Chu Kang Secondary School involved Pathlight students  in planning and executing Secondary 1 orientation activities this year.

The Tampines campus will have facilities like an indoor sports hall, a daily living skills room, computer labs and therapy rooms, and also infrastructure similar to those in mainstream primary schools.

It will also have an open community space where Pathlight pupils can interact with members of the public.

“(Promoting inclusivity) is about changing mindsets, so that we do not see those with special education needs as ‘other’ but simply as people like us who just happen to have different needs,” said Ms Indranee.

She was at Pathlight School to launch Professor Brawn Cafe, a social enterprise which offers inclusive job opportunities, at the school.

Mr Sia Sin Wei (left), a science lab assistant at Pathlight School, and Ms Jamie Goh (fourth from left), 20, a final-year vocational track student at Pathlight School, joined Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah and Pathlight School supervisor and co-founder Denise Phua, and Pathlight School chairman Kang Puay Seng, to launch Professor Brawn Cafe on July 26, 2019. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Up to 50 students each year from the secondary and vocational track will have an opportunity to train at the cafe. They will have responsibilities like making drinks, manning the cashier and serving orders, and will gain transferable work skills like social communication.

In her speech, Ms Indranee cited research showing that people with disabilities hope for greater independence in their lives. Their quality of life is higher if they are employed as work provides community, purpose and income.

“That is true for anyone but more so for a person with an invisible disability like autism as they can be frequently misunderstood or excluded,” she added.

Pathlight School’s supervisor and co-founder, Ms Denise Phua, who is also president of the Autism Resource Centre, said the cafe will provide “authentic job training for Pathlight’s senior students as part of the school’s curriculum to build important employability and life skills from young”.

Students who have been trained can then find work on their own or take part in the School to Work transition programme by MOE, SG Enable and the Ministry of Social and Family Development in partnership with special education schools.

Vocational track final-year student Jamie Goh, 20, has been serving food at the cafe since its June soft launch that has involved 10 students so far.

She said: “I have grown to become more confident in approaching customers and interacting with customers from all walks (of life).”

She added that she has learnt to be focused at work and to work with colleagues.

On Friday, Ms Indranee and other invited guests had lunch at the cafe, served by the students.

The Professor Brawn Cafe will be open to the public from this Saturday, from 9am to 9pm on weekdays and Saturdays, including public holidays and school holidays.