Evelyn's Testimonial for Postgraduate Diploma in SEN

Testimonial - Postgraduate Diploma in Special Educational Needs, University of South Wales




My name is Evelyn and I am honoured and humbled to be here today to deliver the Valedictory speech on behalf of my Post-Graduate Diploma in Special Educational Needs cohort from the University of South Wales.
I remember attending the Induction Session back in August 2013, looking around the classroom, listening to everyone introduce themselves and thinking “Gosh! Almost everyone here is already a Special Ed Teacher!” and wondering if I was out of my depth as I am an early childhood educator in a mainstream preschool.  There were also a few mothers in the classwho had had first-hand experience raising a child with special needs.It seemed clearly to me then, that all my classmates had much more practical experience in this field than I had.
As we progressed, however, I realized that all of us could and did learn from one another’s varied experiences with different age-groups of children.  Every child we came across was unique.No matter the age or special needs of the children we worked with, the following quote from George Evans resonated with us:
“Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or in the same way.”
We looked forward to coming together for our block lectures and the inevitable discussions that followed.  The sessions were intense and we often ended the day mentally exhausted.
Our lecturers always asked thought-provoking questions, challenged what we already knew or thought we knew, forced us to re-examine our knowledge, our values, indeed, our passion for special needs education.For example, the term “inclusive” has been bandied about lately and even our Prime Minister has spoken about making Singapore an inclusive society.  I remember our own discussions in class about this topic and how we had to re-evaluate whether our cherished ideal was a truly inclusive education system or merely an integrated one.  We had a class debateon this in which we had to take sides.  We debated long and hard over the definitions of inclusion versus integration, idealistic versus pragmatic solutions, the rights of persons with disabilities and whether the ends justified the means.  If I am not mistaken, the jury is still out on this as there was no unanimous agreement and our discussions carried on in small groups well after class ended!  Which just goes to show how complex the issues surrounding inclusiveness can be.
I brought my own early childhood experience into the mix as we discussed developmental delays versus disabilities and the various intervention strategies that could be implemented.  We each had stories that were remarkably similar regardless of the age of the children we taught.  Symptoms of inattentiveness or hyperactivity, for example, were the same whether the child was six or sixteen.  
Also, the strategies to help them cope were similar in form and only different in their content due to differing levels of maturity. We discussed if what we did on a daily basis was appropriate or if there were better ways of teaching or doing certain things.  We shared our success stories with joy and our failures humbly.
In the sharing of our experiences, we also affirmed one another as caregivers of children & young adults with special needs.  Yes, caregivers, whether parents or educators, we are all caregivers – that is, a significant adult in the lives of our
children. We also offered each other a shoulder to cry on for we knew full well the difficulties and frustrations we faced as caregivers.
Most, if not all of us worked full-time or part-time while we pursued this course of study.  There were a few stay-at-home-mums in the class but we all know that theirs is really a full-time job!  It was not easy juggling work and studies, especially when we were left on our own for a month or two after the block lectures were over, to work on our assignments on our own time.  Some of us formed our own WhatsApp chat groups to keep in touch, to remind each other of deadlines, to encourage each other on and to yell for help when required.
I remember the first time we ever had to make an electronic submission of our assignment.  As the assignment deadline approached, WhatsApp messages flew fast and furious – Where’s the website? What’s my UserID?  How to upload my file? How many times can we submit it to Turnitin?  We talked and messaged each other through the process until we became proficient at it ….. until the next assignment a few months later when we had forgotten it all by then and had to
start all over again!
There were times when we would look at each other wearily and wonder why we were putting ourselves through this torture, especially when work and assignment deadlines converged, or during the wee hours of the morning with the deadline mere hours away and you’re struggling with writer’s block.  These were the times we had to remind ourselves what led us to pursue this course in the first place.
Since I started teaching preschool almost 10 years ago, I have noticed over the years that my preschool seemed to be getting more and more children with special needs each year.  Some were already diagnosed, some we suspected had special needs but had not been assessed yet.  The latter were the ones we worried about.  Did they just have delayed development or did they have learning disabilities?  Were their disruptive behaviours symptomatic of an underlying special need or were they just poorly managed by the class teacher or by their parents? What kind of early intervention can we implement to help them?  What should we say to the parents?  This was when I decided that I should further my knowledge in the area of Special Educational Needs. I am sure that this was the basic motivation for most, if not all my classmates – How can we do better at helping these children with special needs and their families?
In my case, I wanted to be able to identify preschool children who needed extra help and provide this help to them.   Through this course of study, I learnt to recognize learning difficulties and delays in young children and various methods of intervention.  And do you know something?  The various methods of intervention work equally well with typically developing children, the only difference being that children with special needs progress at a much slower rate compared to their typically developing peers.  The skills that I picked up thus made me a better educator overall besides becoming more sensitive to children at risk of havinglearning difficulties.  At the preschool age, the first step is not about getting a diagnosis and sticking a label on the child but to provide intervention as early as possible when slow developmentis detected.  Indeed, I have come across studies that postulated that a quality preschool education was, in itself, a positive intervention strategy for children at risk.
In line with this, one of the strategic thrusts proposed in the Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016 is to enable access to more early intervention services through the training of early childhood educators to provide intervention support in the preschool setting.  I would thus encourage all early childhood educators to learn about special educational needs for we really are the frontline for early intervention support. 
For all of us graduating today, I offer sincere congratulations and thanks, for we made it through the tough timestogether.  We have learnt so much from each other these past two years and I believe we will continue to learn and become better educators, not least from the special and unique children that we work with each day.  I leave you today with a final quote:
“The day you are willing to veer off the lesson plan, follow a kid’s lead, and learn with your students is the day you really become a teacher.”
Thank you.


- Ms Evelyn Koh

Valedictorian, 2015 Graduating Class

Postgraduate Diploma in Special Educational Needs

University of South Wales