SINGAPORE - Early childhood educator Koh Jia Min wanted to better understand how to teach her students with special needs, so she pursued and earned a bachelor's in special education to do just that.
Allied educator Li Jiayi wanted to communicate better with students with hearing loss, so she learnt sign language.
For going beyond the call of duty in their work, Ms Koh, 31, and Ms Li, 29, were two of four educators who received the Leading Foundation Teacher Award at a ceremony on Tuesday (Dec 15) held at the National Institute of Education in Jurong.
The award, which is into its seventh year, honours educators who have gone above and beyond their call of duty to positively impact the lives of those under their care. Recipients each receive a cash award of $2,500 and an award certificate.
The Leading Foundation was established in 2013 by Mr Lim Siong Guan, a former top civil servant who is now a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and Ms Joanne Lim, founder of local consultancy company The Right Perspective.
It supports programmes in education and leadership, with a particular focus on educators.
The two other award recipients on Tuesday were Ms Elaine Chong Yulian of St James' Church Kindergarten, Ms Tan Pek Keow of St Andrew's Autism School.
Ms Chong, 29, had taken a pay cut to become an early childhood educator after being in the marketing and communications sector for more than six years.
Ms Tan, 51, made a career switch almost almost 10 years ago from being an IT quality assurance personnel to a teacher's aide, before becoming a teacher.
She is currently heavily involved in leading a parent support group to help families with children with autism cope with travel on airplanes.
Ms Koh, who is now teaching differentiated learning to children with varying learning needs at PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots Preschool in Chua Chu Kang, said of her motivation to know more: "I had two students with special education needs... so I felt that I should pursue and understand more about them as an educator."
Ms Li, an allied educator for learning and behaviour support in Outram Secondary School, said the transition from being a behavioural therapist in the private sector to her work at the school, where she supports students with special needs in adapting and integrating into mainstream schools, has been challenging.
"There's just one of me. But the number of students diagnosed with special needs have increased" from 80 when she first joined in 2016 to 100 this year.
But she has been doing more where she can. She organised a school carnival last year to raise awareness of special needs people and set up "cool-down corners" in Outram for students who need time and space to regulate their emotions.
She credited supportive teachers for aiding in her endeavours.
She added: "I've learnt a lot from the parents themselves. A lot of them know more than I do."