Inclusivity begins in the classroom

Dr Jacqueline Chung believes that inculcating inclusivity starts from young, as early as in preschool. As Senior Principal and Academic Director of St James’ Church Kindergarten (SJCK)and Little Seeds Preschool (LSP), Dr Chung encourages children at both schools to discover connections and relationships with others from diverse backgrounds through healthy conversations. Through such interactions, young minds are nurtured to accept others who may be different. The children are taught to embrace ‘From Me to We’.

For Dr Chung, who is also an Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) Fellow, keeping the doors open to parents of children with developmental needs is crucial in achieving inclusivity. “When we meet the parents of children with developmental needs to discuss the possibility of their child being part of our preschool community, it’s important to understand the needs and aspirations of both the child and parents,” she shares.

To better support inclusion of children with developmental needs, SJCK’s Harding Road campus has been partnering the Lien Foundation and Rainbow Centre, a social service agency operating three special education (SPED) schools, in the Making Every Preschool Inclusive (MEPI) project.

Launched in July 2019, the 3.5 year-long initiative focuses on training programmes for Early Childhood (EC) educators and Early Intervention (EI) teachers. MEPI aims to deepen EC educators’ competencies in co-teaching and supporting a class of diverse learners. Part of this involves differentiated learning, where teachers tailor teaching methods and approaches to suit individual needs.

The MEPI project is already showing promise. For example, teachers involved in the project are beginning to be more aware of the potential in children with developmental needs.

“They are also beginning to understand the reasons behind certain behaviours of these children. As a result, they are now more intentional in how they involve children with developmental needs in their lesson activities,” adds Dr Chung.

SJCK’s and LSP’s collaborative approach chimes with national efforts like the Enabling Masterplan, which aims to build an inclusive society where persons with disabilities are recognised, empowered and given every opportunity to be integral and contributing members of society. In 2019, MSF set up three cross-sectoral Enabling Masterplan workgroups to delve deeper into the areas of inclusive preschools, employment and independent living for persons with disabilities. The workgroups have been working closely with government and community partners to organise a series of engagement sessions with various stakeholders, including persons with disabilities, caregivers, and staff of social service agencies, to co-create and co-deliver solutions in these focus areas. The Inclusive Preschool Workgroup, which involves public, private and people sector partners such as Dr Chung, is focusing on ways to support children with moderate to severe developmental needs in preschools.

National efforts have helped to heighten the awareness of people with developmental needs.  Dr Chung however believes that there is still much work to be done to achieve a truly inclusive society, especially at the preschool level.

To Dr Chung, this includes a positive shift in educators’ mindsets in mainstream preschools, and more on-ground exposure to instil confidence in Early Childhood leaders and teachers in managing children with developmental needs. Beyond regular training and meetings, the “little interactions and conversations” with parents help teachers to build up their skills and confidence.

“It is crucial to provide integrated support from the preschool, therapists and Early Intervention educators,” stresses Dr Chung.

“At the end of the day, children with developmental needs and their families will need to feel welcomed and, most importantly, accepted by the community.” (Click here for more information on support for children with developmental needs).