SINGAPORE: Pathlight School, an autism-focused institution, will open its second permanent campus in 2023, announced Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah on Friday (Jul 26).
The new campus at Tampines Street 91 will be able to take in 500 primary level students, helping the Ministry of Education (MOE) meet demand for places in special education schools.
Pathlight, which started operations in 2004 with just 41 students, now has about 1,400 primary, secondary and vocational-track students.
The school currently has one permanent campus at Ang Mo Kio Ave 10 that caters to Primary 1 and 2 students, and an interim campus at Ang Mo Kio Street 44 that caters to Primary 3 to 6 students, and secondary and vocational-track students.
The interim campus will remain open even after the new permanent facility begins operations in January 2023.
Ms Indranee said that the location of the new campus – which used to house East View Primary School – was chosen based on the geographical distribution of Pathlight’s current demand and the site’s proximity to mainstream schools such as Junyuan Primary and St Hilda’s Primary.
“In deciding where to site special education schools and campuses, one very important consideration that we take into account is whether the location will facilitate interaction with mainstream schools,” said Ms Indranee.
“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.
The new campus will also feature an indoor sports hall, computer labs and specialised facilities to cater to the students’ needs, including a daily living skills room and therapy rooms.
Speaking at the launch of Professor Brawn Cafe, Pathlight’s first inclusive worksite, Ms Indranee cited research conducted by the National Council of Social Service, noting that persons with disabilities who are employed have a better quality of life.
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“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,” said Ms Indranee.
“A person with a special need or a disability is no different from any other person in terms of having hopes, aspirations and feelings,” she added.
The cafe, located at Pathlight’s Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 campus, will be open to the public from Saturday.
President of the Autism Resource Centre and MP Denise Phua said: “As a school, we know the importance of literacy, numeracy and vocational skills. Equally important, is a set of transferable skills that are useful for all jobs and across industries.”
Highlighting skills such as managing work expectations, customer needs, stamina, pace and quality standards, and hygiene and emotional management, Ms Phua added: “Once these work habits are cultivated from young, the chances of landing a job and keeping it are then much higher.”
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Pathlight principal Linda Kho said that the cafe seeks to provide an authentic work experience for the students.
“The fact that the cafe’s workforce comprises staff on the autism spectrum is testament to our belief that with training and support, many people on the autism spectrum and other special needs can work.”
The cafe will provide training for up to 50 students each year. On-site job training is incorporated into the school curriculum for students in the final year of the vocational track.
There are also plans to extend this to Secondary 3 and 4 students preparing to take O-Levels at Pathlight.
Similar inclusive worksites and open community spaces will also be a feature at the new campus.
Mdm Violet Poh, parent of a Pathlight alumnus, said her son has benefited greatly from Pathlight’s support.
Her son Chester, now 21, recently graduated with a diploma in visual communications from Singapore Polytechnic and will be enlisting for National Service in October.
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Chester’s artworks have been turned into products that are now on sale at the Arts Faculty shop next to Professor Brawn Cafe.
“My son loves to draw, and at Pathlight, they always look out for what they have, their talents. So it was developed and it was encouraged, and now I see his drawings selling as products.
“When he got his first cheque, he was really very happy. It’s not about the money. He’s able to work and gain income for himself, which is what Professor Brawn is about. It’s not just a cafe that serves food. It’s actually hope for all parents like me.”