Published on 28 Nov 2023

A mother's heart for special needs sons: Why she got her master's degree and is now helping caregivers too

She embarked on a master's degree in special education at NIE to be a better mum and landed a job in a registered charity even before graduation

When Ms Shoelle Goh signed up for a master’s degree in special education in 2020, she had one goal: To be a better mum for her two special needs sons.

Even though she had formal training as a teacher and taught in mainstream schools for a decade, she increasingly felt she was not equipped to support her children’s learning needs as they grow older.

Ms Goh’s elder son, 13, is diagnosed with dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorder of moderate severity, affecting his reading ability and social and adaptive challenges in socialising and learning. Her eight-year-old younger son has developmental coordination delay and dysgraphia, which affects his writing skills and gross motor skills significantly.  

“I was very sure I wanted to learn more about special education,” shares Ms Goh. The SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy that gives Singaporeans aged 40 and above fee subsidies eventually tipped the scales, and she enrolled in the National Institute of Education’s Master of Education (Special Education) programme.

Taking the course on a part-time basis allowed Ms Goh to continue being the main caregiver for her children. Two nights a week for two years, while family members looked after her sons, Ms Goh attended class at the NIE campus.

By day, she sent her children to school, did her school readings over lunchtime, and completed assignments after her children were fast asleep.

Despite the night classes, Ms Goh treasured those learning hours. “It was refreshing and recharging to be able to step away temporarily from childminding, plug myself back into learning, and then go home to be a better parent,” says Ms Goh, who had attended university for her bachelor’s degree more than a decade ago.  

Her classes at NIE were taught by competent and responsive lecturers with a wealth of experience in the special needs sector. “The lecturers were top-notch, established researchers. They were also super approachable, passionate about their job and keen to support children with special needs,” endorses Ms Goh.

Having returned to formal education after many years, she felt reassured with the clear guidance and feedback given by the lecturers. 

Ms Goh also enjoyed networking with her classmates, who came from all walks of life and had relevant professional experiences, including early intervention and mainstream education teachers, a school principal and special education specialists, pursuing the same programme to deepen their knowledge and understanding.

With her classmates, she engaged in enriching discussions when they discussed real-life issues in class and applied solutions gleaned from international research and methodologies. 

An education which met personal and communal needs

The master’s degree equipped Ms Goh with practical and useful skills to help her children. For example, a certain disability may affect a child’s concentration or coordination, which may require a caretaker to break down a task into smaller, more achievable parts. Reading studies about social support and accommodation also helped her plan for her children’s development into teenagehood and eventually into working life.

While her original goal was to help her own family, Ms Goh’s further education had additional benefits. “All the information, skills, and connections I’ve gained, not only benefit my sons but also the special needs community, including educators and caregivers. We learn what their quirks and needs are, and how as a society we can give them the right support and accommodation so they can also contribute to society.” 

“In Singapore, we are still at an early stage of special education. It’s a taboo subject for many caregivers, and there is a lot of stigma, resistance and denial. We want to empower them with more information and support,” says Ms Goh. 

Prospects-enhancing credentials facilitated a dream career switch 

Realising that she could do more than help her family, Ms Goh started to explore opportunities in the special education and care sector. While she had considered joining the sector before, the master’s degree was the key she needed to establish her relevant experience and knowledge. 

Through a caregivers’ network, Ms Goh met the chief executive officer of a registered charity which connects caregivers to resources. Impressed with her qualifications and skills, she offered Ms Goh a role at the charity. 

Today, Ms Goh works as a senior training executive with the registered charity. By applying her knowledge from her master's programme, and her experience as a caregiver, she recently developed a support programme designed to help caregivers who are awaiting early intervention from the moment they receive the diagnosis of their loved ones. This includes emotional support in their grieving process, strategies and tips to manage both their loved one’s disability and the caregivers’ self-care. 

“My degree taught me to think deeply and critically about policy and issues that directly impact the special needs community. As a policymaker, how do you plan programmes, what is the underlying philosophy, and what needs do you have to answer – all these skills helped me to think holistically when I planned the support programme together with my team, in consultation with SG Enable. 

“Even before I went for my convocation to receive my degree certificate, I was already putting what I learned to good use,” she says with a laugh.

Ms Goh encourages mid-careerists like herself to consider a postgraduate degree if they have a strong interest in the subject. “An NIE degree is not just for teachers. It’s for anyone who wants to deepen their knowledge about the field they are passionate about. From this degree, I’ve gained much more than what I signed up for.” 

NIE has a diverse range of graduate programmes at master's and doctoral level catering to different areas of expertise, from Education to Arts and Sciences. The August 2024 intake is open and closes in January 2024. Interested applicants with a bachelor’s degree are encouraged to find out more here.

Read the original article here

Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.