More shadow teachers for special needs pupils

Primary school students. (TODAY File Photo)

SINGAPORE: Seven—year—old Jeremy Lim (not his real name) has two teachers in his classroom, one of whom provides daily feedback to his parents on his progress at school.

But the Primary 1 boy has no idea he is getting this personal attention, as the teacher also interacts with his classmates and observes him subtly during lessons.

Jeremy is among a growing number of special needs pupils in mainstream schools whose parents engage shadow teachers to ease their transition from pre—school to Primary 1.

These teachers accompany the child to all his lessons for three months to a year and liaise with school personnel, parents and other therapy support.

Focusing mainly on the child’s social development, the shadow teacher assists the classroom teacher, for instance, by creating visual aids and colour—coding the child’s timetable to familiarise him with the new routine.

While there are no official figures on the number of pupils with shadow teachers, service providers told TODAY that there has been growing interest among parents in recent years.

Ms Carol Tan, one of the founders of Milestones Partners, set up less than two years ago, said this was due to parents’ greater awareness about special needs.

It has handled about 35 enquiries and cases in all, but the cost and resistance by some schools are stumbling blocks.

Excel Learning Clinic principal therapist Jean Heng agreed that the cost, which averages about $5,000 a month, does deter parents.

Madam Heng added: "Schools have varying openness towards shadow teaching, as it’s still a relatively foreign concept here. There could be concerns of confidentiality, as it involves an external party."

But another service provider, Nurture Pods, is seeing greater openness among schools. Attributing this to the Government’s push for inclusiveness, clinical director Alex Liau said it has found one or two schools that now accept the service, compared to none previously.

Anchor Green Primary School started working with shadow teachers last year and principal Mrs Dhillon A Singh sees it as a time—bound arrangement to foster independence in the child.

While shadow teachers work with classroom teachers and allied educators to support the child, she noted: "The (classroom) teacher remains in charge of the class at all times."

Parents who engage shadow teaching services told TODAY that while cost is a concern, they are more assured that this additional resource would help their child succeed in mainstream schools.

One parent said: "Entering P1 is an anxious period ... much less for a special needs child, I’m not confident that one teacher overseeing the entire class and one allied educator for the school is sufficient."

Generally, pupils with shadow teachers would have needs ranging from behavioural and communication issues to mild autism.

Overall, the number of children with special needs in mainstream schools has almost doubled from 4,400 in 2006 to 8,700 in 2010, of which half are in primary schools, the Education Ministry said in reply to TODAY’s queries.

A spokesperson said "a multi—pronged approach has been adopted to support these children", including equipping all primary schools with at least one allied educator for learning behaviour support. There will be 200 more of them by 2015 to meet longer—term needs.

But she added: "Children who require long—term and specialised intervention would benefit more from the curriculum and intensive support that a Special Education school can offer."

Similarly, Dr Noel Chia, who specialises in special needs education at the National Institute of Education, said that shadow teaching works best for children with marginal to mild degrees of disability.

He said: "The success of shadow teaching depends on how it’s being followed up by the parents at home or by the classroom teacher when the service is no longer available." —

TODAY