International Women's Day: Pre-school principal breaks barriers for kids with special needs
Ms Sandy Koh first got her feet wet in early childhood education specialising in children with additional needs in 2002.
Since then, it has been one of her visions to set up a pre-school dedicated to inclusivity.
She finally achieved this in May last year when she became the principal of Kindle Garden, Singapore's first inclusive pre-school that welcomes children aged two to six of all capabilities and developmental needs.
Ms Koh, 52, told TNP: "I had always hoped to be in the front line of supporting more pre-schools to be more inclusive."
Her journey began about 20 years ago when she was a learning support teacher at Inamen Learning Consultancy, providing support to children with special needs.
She said: "Reflecting on my experiences, I realise how fortunate the kids at Kindle Garden are. In the past, there was much less support and awareness about pre-schoolers with additional needs and disabilities.
"Our society is slowly changing and becoming more accepting and aware, and pre-schoolers have more access to help in terms of safe spaces and therapy, which allows them to prepare for the future."
The stigma surrounding early childhood educators is also fading, said Ms Koh, who has a 29-year-old son.
"Society's image of us is that we are not on par with mainstream educators. We are seen as merely caregivers or professional nannies instead of certified educators.
"But now, there is more empathy and awareness of the importance of early childhood in the younger generation, and more people are willing to get an education in early childhood."
Each class at Kindle Garden - which started in 2016 and is located within the Enabling Village coaching centre in Lengkok Bahru - comprises 30 per cent of students with global developmental delay, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or hearing and visual impairment. There are also two to three teachers or therapists on hand to provide sufficient support and attention.
Ms Koh said: "I hope I can influence other principals to provide more inclusivity for pre-schoolers with different needs in the future, and collaborate with other schools in projects or celebrations."