For the Association’s committee members, principals and teachers, their belief in the pupils have driven their desire to educate and prepare the children for their future. And it is this determination that fuels the growth of the schools, such that the APSN has grown to include five schools: Chao Yang School, Jervois School, Katong School, Tanglin School and Delta Senior School.
In 2006, the APSN will have a larger and more accessible school when Chao Yang and Jervois Schools merge and move to Ang Mo Kio. 2005 also closed on a celebratory note when Katong School received news of a relocation to Tanah Merah.
Our Own Building at Last!
Getting its first school building in 1978 was cause for huge celebration and a landmark for the then AESN. Although the churches had generously allowed the AESN to use their premises, the Association was rapidly outgrowing these facilities.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) went a long way to help in this area. Although it could not provide direct funding to the AESN, it assisted by giving the Association disused schools.
The first disused school the AESN received was certainly a break with tradition for the MOE and all other special schools in Singapore. It was the first time the Land Office had allocated a building for a special school that was outside the MOE’s jurisdiction. Since it would not come under the Ministry’s direct funding and had to raise its own funds, the school was gazetted as a private school.
It was common practice before this for special schools to request land from government and then spend a few years raising funds to have the school built. But the AESN felt that if this were to happen, the children’s growth and learning would be greatly compromised. Several years would have passed before the new building would be ready, and that would have translated to years of lost education for the students. So the Association went to the MOE and instead requested for a disused school. The Ministry’s consent was a landmark in the history of special education.
A School of Our Own: Katong Special School
All the APSN schools began with one that holds fond memories for the Association’s founding members: Katong Special School at Arthur Road.
This first school was received in 1978. Previously called Tanjong Katong Malay School, this was a Malay (girls) primary school. The pre-war school was situated at Arthur Road in Tanjong Katong. It had a termite-ridden wooden building and a concrete block that was built after the war. There was much that required renovation, but it was still quicker and more cost-effective than building a new school.
In 1979, the school happily opened its doors to 110 pupils. And in 1980, the then Minister of State for Education, Mr Chai Chong Yi, officiated Katong Special School’s opening. Recalled Dr Francis C. Chen, organizing Chairman; “This was a historic occasion. This first school would be part of the APSN’s group of schools for many years to come.”
By the following year, some of the APSN’s charges, at age 16, were old enough to receive vocational training. To improve employability, the Association opened pre-employment vocational training classes.
The school at Arthur Road was to play a central part in many mildly intellectually disabled children’s lives for over a decade before it moved to larger premises at La Salle Street in December 1991.
After a decade, the wear and tear was beginning to show. “This school was built in the 1950s and the students needed a more conducive environment for learning,” explains Mr Lee Keng Min, principal of Katong School. Scarcity of space was also an issue since the school commenced programmes for senior school-age pupils in 2003. During President Nathan’s visit to the school in October 2005, the students displayed their wish lists for the president. Some of the pupils’ wishes include better learning facilities and to contribute to nation building.
Come 2007, Katong School will move into its newest, largest and most accessible home: the former Bedok View Primary School, on Upper Changi Road just across from the Tanah Merah MRT station.
Our Second School: Chao Yang Special School
The AESN was ready for its second school in the early 1980s. By 1980, Katong Special School had a long wait list for admissions. In 1982, a clan association, Teo Yeonh Huai Kuan came to the rescue by allowing the AESN use of its former clan school on Clemenceau Avenue. This new location in the city offered many learning opportunities. With shopping centres, wet markets, museums, banks, post offices and police posts all a stone’s throw away, it was a wonderful place for students to learn social and life skills.
In 1986, Chao Yang Special School moved to the former Anthony Road Girls’ School near Newton Circus. It opened its doors to students from Clementi Special School (opened in 1985) when both schools merged in 1986. The green field at the Anthony Road school gave students more room for outdoor games, and the additional classrooms provided for more lessons and vocational training. With its majestic tree-lined surroundings, Chao Yang School has been a quiet focal point in the Newton area for the past twenty years.
As of 2006, the school will reopen at the new, expanded premises in Ang Mo Kio, opposite the Yio Chu Kang MRT station. The new Chao Yang School will have more rooms dedicated to services such as occupational therapy and psychological services. Jervois School will also be merged with Chao Yang School. The new name of this combined school will be Chaoyang School.
A Brief Stay in the West: Clementi Special School
Clementi Special School, like the other schools, grew out of lengthy wait lists. In 1985, it opened its doors at Sunset Grove and provided academic learning as well as technical classes for students who found the academic curriculum too challenging. However, the lack of public transportation and the small enrolment made it unfeasible; it merged with Chao Yang Special School in 1986.
Our Third School: Jervois Special School
In 1990, Jervois Special School, located at 71 Jervois Road, opened its doors. Headed by Mr Yong Soo Cheng, it initially ran single-session classes for a mere 55 students. To relieve an ever-growing wait list, classes were held on the ground floor the moment the classrooms were ready, amidst the renovation of the other storeys. Ground-floor classrooms were even partitioned into two. “I had to share classrooms with a divider. It was a little strange at first because you could hear what was going on on the other side. But we worked with what we had,” remembers Mrs Anna Solomon, a teacher who gave up her previous job as a journalist with the Tamil Press to join Jervois Special School.
Mr Yong Soo Cheng, who recently left the APSN in 2005, strongly encouraged students to excel in their academic pursuits through literacy programmes such as BEST. “And they did,” Mrs Anna Solomon remarks.
But there was one thing the principal could not control — the weather. “It is so funny, the ground floor of the school would flood whenever there was heavy rain. And because the principal’s office was located on the ground floor, his files would get soaked and the classrooms too,” recalls Mrs Anna Solomon.
By 1991, with renovations completed, the school was fully operational with 170 students in morning and afternoon sessions. In 2002, the school moved to larger premises in Delta Avenue.
As of 2005, Jervois Special School had a capacity of 250, but an enrolment of only 194. It moved out at the end of the year to merge with Chao Yang Special School at its new premises in Ang Mo Kio. It opens its doors to the new school year there in 2006.
Our Fourth School: Delta Senior School
With the move of Katong Special School to La Salle Street in 1996, the Arthur Road premises was now available to serve the needs of older students. The Arthur Road Training Centre that was already housed on the premises was converted to a senior school, catering to 16 to 18 year-olds.
Before this, the Centre was funded by the Ministry of Community Development and geared more towards teaching vocational skills. In 1995, when Dr Francis Chen took over the presidency of the Association, he revamped the curriculum to include classroom-based academic subjects that were taught alongside vocational skills. A group of vocal parents had also been lobbying extensively for changes in the education of older pupils in the 16–18 age group, even making representations to the Minister of State for Education, Dr Aline Wong. They had the perception that if these pupils were funded directly under the MOE and its Special Education Unit, greater changes and improvements in teaching and resources for this group of pupils would occur.
With Dr Wong’s encouragement, Arthur Road Training Centre registered under the MOE, leading to the formation of Delta Senior School at 20 Delta Avenue in 1998.
Our Fifth School: Tanglin Special School
The APSN began the new millennium with the opening of its fifth school, Tanglin School, a secondary school. The APSN had decided to restructure three schools: Chao Yang, Katong and Jervois into primary schools. Tanglin would then serve the 13 to 15 year-old group of pupils that came from the three junior schools.
AESN to APSN: What’s in Our Name?
AESN became the Association for Persons with Special Needs in the year 2000. The old name, the Association for Educationally Subnormal Children, while clinically apt, held unpleasant connotations.
“For many years, there was a lone parent who would always attend annual general meetings and question the existing name of ‘subnormal’ children and would always request a name change. Finally he got what he wanted!” reminisces Dr Francis Chen.
In keeping with trends in the West, the term “special needs” became the more politically correct and acceptable replacement. And in 2004, the word “special” was dropped from the names of all APSN schools. “These kids don’t want to be different. Physically, between someone with mild intellectual disability and someone with no intellectual disability, it would be hard to tell the difference,” explains Dr Hoili Lim, an APSN psychologist. Students had often become discomfited by how they would be perceived coming from a “special school”. Dropping the word “special” was done to increase students’ esteem and to better support their integration into society.