Finding special tutors for children with special needs

Ms Chng Ching Yee uses interactive quizzes to engage Fong Ruo En, who has muscular dystrophy, during mathematics tuition classes. Ruo En will be starting Primary 1 next year.
Ms Chng Ching Yee uses interactive quizzes to engage Fong Ruo En, who has cerebral palsy, during mathematics tuition classes. Ruo En will be starting Primary 1 next year.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Start-up matches those with disabilities - both tutors and students - for tuition lessons

It takes a special someone to have the heart to teach children with special needs, and a start-up has sprung up to play matchmaker.

LearnIn, a social enterprise set up in April last year by Mr Bryan Neo, 24, also matches tutors who have a disability with students - who may or may not have special needs.

So far, LearnIn has set up matches between 13 students - most of whom have disabilities - and tutors. It currently has a pool of 40 tutors, of whom 23 have special needs. Not all of these tutors have students at the moment.

The disabilities range from visual and hearing impairments to autism and intellectual disabilities.

Among LearnIn's matches are a tutor with a visual impairment who is teaching English and literature to a pair of siblings, both of whom also have visual impairments; and a deaf tutor who taught mathematics and science to three girls from mainstream primary and secondary schools.

Mr Neo had the idea for LearnIn in 2014 when he joined the Young Social Entrepreneurs Programme, a mentorship initiative run by the Singapore International Foundation.

The first-year social work student from the Singapore University of Social Sciences will also start a series of workshops later this year to teach life skills to children and young people with special needs.

  • 13

    Number of matches between students - most of whom have disabilities - and tutors that LearnIn has facilitated. The social enterprise also matches teachers who have a disability with students who may or may not have special needs.

  • 40

    The pool of tutors that LearnIn currently has, of whom 23 have special needs. Not all of them have students at the moment.

The workshops will receive support from the LearnSG Seed Fund run by the Lifelong Learning Council, which encourages initiatives to boost lifelong learning.

Mr Neo, who has volunteered in a few disability organisations, hopes that more people will be willing to work with people with disabilities.

He has a co-working space at Tech Able, an assistive technology space for social enterprises at the Enabling Village. "It can be hard for mainstream tutors to teach those with disabilities. It's like learning a new skill and sometimes you need to be patient," he said.

He takes tutors to the Enabling Village, a community space in Lengkok Bahru dedicated to integrating people with disabilities into society, so that they are aware of the various assistive technology devices.

He also sits in on each trial class that he arranges to ensure that the tutor and student are a good match.

LearnIn collects a one-time referral fee for each tuition match.

A CHALLENGE TO TEACH

Teaching her mathematics is not easy. It's a subject she doesn't like.

HOUSEWIFE WENDY CHONG, 43, the mother of eight-year-old Fong Ruo En, who has cerebral palsy. She has limited motor skills and is not able to communicate verbally. She uses an assistive technology device similar to an iPad application to express herself.

Eight-year-old Fong Ruo En, who has cerebral palsy, has been going for mathematics tuition to prepare for Primary 1 next year. She has limited motor skills and is not able to communicate verbally. She uses an assistive technology device similar to an iPad application to express herself.

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS

I make use of sound effects and quizzes where she can use her hand to move the mouse to the answers.

TUTOR CHNG CHING YEE, 24, who uses interactive PowerPoint slides to interest Ruo En during lessons as the girl likes to learn through technology.

Her mother, housewife Wendy Chong, 43, said: "Teaching her mathematics is not easy. It's a subject she doesn't like."

Her tutor, Ms Chng Ching Yee, 24, uses interactive PowerPoint slides to interest Ruo En during lessons as the girl likes to learn through technology.

"I make use of sound effects and quizzes where she can use her hand to move the mouse to the answers," she said.

Ms Chng, a pre-school teacher, was first exposed to children with special needs in pre-school, where some had behavioural issues such as autism.

"They're very happy when someone is willing to teach them and give them an opportunity to learn.

"They aren't that different from us. As a teacher, when you see a kid progress, you feel a big sense of achievement," said Ms Chng.

Said Madam Chong: "To find a teacher trained and willing to teach (children with) special needs is quite difficult."


Correction note: This story has been edited to say that Fong Ruo En has cerebral palsy and not muscular dystrophy. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline 'Finding special tutors for children with special needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe