It Changed My Life: Pre-school principal Lena Koh makes inclusive learning her mission
Little Khloe Gan is merrily ambling towards the childcare centre’s play area when Madam Lena Koh stops the tyke in her tracks.
“Khloe, have you finished your snack? Can you put your bowl in the pail, please?” coos the principal of Kindle Garden.
The child dutifully does as told, earning a beaming smile from Madam Koh. “Good girl,” she says.
And Khloe – a three-year-old with Down syndrome – merrily goes off to join her friends, most of whom are typically developing children.
Madam Koh has good reason to be pleased. A year ago, when Khloe came to Kindle Garden – Singapore’s first inclusive childcare centre located at the Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru – she could not even walk.
“She had low muscle tone, so she moved around on her bum,” the principal says.
But with help from the childcare centre’s resident occupational therapist, the little girl can now even run.
Run by voluntary welfare group Awwa and funded by the Lien Foundation, Kindle Garden is a dream come true for Madam Koh, who has spent nearly three decades in early childhood education (ECE).
The mother of two boys, aged 13 and 17, has a soft spot for children with special needs. Her younger son Dexter is autistic and she understands only too well the challenges parents with special needs children have to grapple with, especially when it comes to education.
“A lot of heartbreak can be prevented if only we try. Inclusion works and while the journey is not easy, the results make it worth fighting for,” she says.
Petite but feisty, she is the elder of two sisters, and grew up in a one-room flat in Kim Keat.
Her father was a carpenter who had to stop working after suffering a heart attack in his early 50s. Her mother was a stall assistant and dishwasher.
To supplement the family income, the former student of Chong Boon Primary and Mayflower Secondary started working during school holidays from the age of 12.
She washed dishes and served drinks at canteens in shipyards and other industrial areas, waited on tables in Japanese restaurants and worked as a sales assistant in department stores.
“I think working from such an early age taught me resilience and made me street-smart,” she says.
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