I have a three-year-old autistic son who is currently on the early intervention programme at Rainbow Centre Balestier Special School.
In June, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) took over the early intervention programme. I hoped the fees would be reduce and the therapy sessions increased under MCYS.
On the contrary, I was shocked to receive a letter in July stating that school fees would increase by 100 per cent from this month. This was due to an increase in co-funding. If we had difficulty paying the fees, we could approach a social worker.
No other institution - even private schools - operates in this manner by increasing its fees by 100 per cent.
There was a dialogue session held a few weeks later and I spoke to three other parents. None of us attended because we felt it was pointless as the decision had already been made.
We parents felt it was not a matter of whether we could afford to pay but was it worth it? Many asked: Does it mean our children will receive more therapy sessions? Does it mean the number of hours will be extended? Does it mean there will be more one-to-one?
Under the new guidelines, the ratio of therapist to children is 1 : 100, and teacher to children is 1 : 6. As such, Rainbow retrenched one therapist and rejected another's application.
Our children attend this programme from age two to four plus. It is overwhelming for the teacher to handle more than two children with special needs at this age. I can't imagine if there are six of them.
With all this, the three parents asked me to write to MCYS Minister Vivian Balakrishnan to express our concerns and frustrations.
During these three months, I have been cycling around my estate to look for childcare centre or kindergarten that is willing to accept my son's condition and have found one. It may not have the best trained teachers and programme tailored to special needs children, but I am willing to give it a try and withdraw from Rainbow.
Anne Ng Sar Moy (Mdm)
I believe this issue has been brought up about a year ago by a particular blogger and former columnist called Mr Brown who, like Mdm Ann Ng Sar Moy, here, expressed his dismay in his column regarding the fee hike.
Here is an extract of what he wrote
"I also found out recently that my first-born daughter's special school fees were going up. This is because of this thing called "Means Testing", where they test your means, then if you are not poor enough, you lose some or all of the subsidy you've been getting for your special child's therapy.
I think I am looking at about a $100 increase, which is a more than a 100 per cent increase, but who's counting, right? We can afford it, but we do know many families who cannot, even those that are making more money than we are, on paper.
But don't worry. Most of you don't have this problem. Your normal kids can go to regular school for very low fees, and I am sure they will not introduce means testing for your cases."
For full article, it is here.
As a result, it became the Mr Brown affair as he was sacked for writing what he wrote in a column and was roundly condemned by the K Bhavani, Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, for pouring " sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.", "distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.", not being " a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics."
For full article, read here.