Interview from Singapore (Part 1)

Interview with Jack Ho of Singapore Management University, Singapore, Part I

To expand our thinking about disability and the nature of providing services to students with disabilities in higher education programs, we have been turning to some of our international members to provide some new perspectives. To help us along this journey we were honored to speak with one of our international members Mr. Jack Ho from Singapore Management University (SMU).

Jack joined us last year in Sacramento and has become part of our efforts to bring members together from all parts of the world to share and collaborate whenever possible. The following interview with Jack will allow us to broaden our perspective and learn how Singapore approaches disability services generally and at the Office of Global Learning, where Jack is the Assistant Director for Diversity and Inclusion.

Essentially, disability services in Singapore are provided through NGOs (non-governmental organizations) with some support from the government. This seems like a daunting task and yet, as Jack explained, “There are more than 200 doing various things in support of disabilities,” and he notes, “the government lends support through funding and there are many funding [options] but there is feedback that application processes are tedious and burdensome.” What complicates support is that funding is seldom comprehensive, and an individual with a disability needing assistance with health, social or educational needs “may have to go through several different [government] ministries.”

Jack sees some challenges for the educational system in general. Although the compulsory educational system itself is good, individuals with disabilities are sometimes excused and excluded from education. In Singapore, people with disabilities have two options: to enter into mainstream education or to go to a “special education” school. The former emphasizes academic excellence; the latter on life skills. There are special schools that cater to children with sensory impairments, autism, multiple disabilities and children with intellectual disabilities. There are also early intervention programs and child development units. Jack shared a most interesting “Pathways for Children with Special Needs” diagram that outlines the clear progression through different educational “tracks” in Singapore.

At the higher education level, the process may best be viewed as a “symbiotic relationship” between higher education and society so that each will influence the other to do more. While there are students with disabilities at the higher education level, there may be a tendency for these students to conceal their disabilities. In other cases, there are families who are able to provide the kinds of resources that allow students to enter and get the help they need at the university level which will become a “major determinant and factor for success.”

Nevertheless, Jack is hopeful about the role that higher education will play in creating welcoming and accessible environments that foster success in future employment and in life. This will also involve efforts to educate bring together government, industry and civil society, as well as expanding community awareness of the important issues surrounding those with disabilities.

Please don’t miss Part II of this interview in which Jack tells us about the interesting way in which he personally became involved in providing services for individuals with disabilities and what he is doing to promote university and community awareness of the needs of individuals with disabilities in his exciting country.

To get more information about Jack Yong Ho’s department, please link to: http://www.smu.edu.sg/global/diversity-and-inclusion/special-needs-disability