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Interview - Kits4Kids Malaysia

on 17/07/2014 2517

Kits4Kids Malaysia, a social enterprise, part of Kits4Kids Foundation Worldwide, is a network of centers catering for children with special needs and disabilities, including family and social support. Kiddy123 recently interviewed the Managing Director of Kits4Kids Foundation Malaysia, Ms. Isabelle Chu, to find out more about their noble cause.

Can you tell me a little about the history and background of Kits4Kids?

Kits4Kids Foundation was started in Singapore in 2003. Till date, Kits4Kids has operations in United States, to Africa and Asia. It came to Malaysia in 2008 and we were fully operational in 2009. However, in 2010, there was a management change after the Founder intervene to put Kits4Kids Malaysia back to its roots.

At Kits4Kids, we focus on appropriate intervention programs, designed by an international team, adopting best practices, integrating educational, therapy and medical knowledge. Our growth in Malaysia including other CSR projects we have done in Melaka and Kelantan, stands at seven locations. However, we are focus in our four own centres, advancing our programs as well as special education teachers’ trainings so that our students get the best balance of education and therapy, improving their quality of life. For Kits4Kids Malaysia, we target one community service project every two years, usually teaching and transferring our knowledge and intellectual properties for them to be self-sufficient to serve their communities.

We offer various programs for different age groups and have a low student-teacher ratio to ensure that our children get the appropriate behavioural therapy and educational teaching they need. Unlike other similar centres, our special educators need to have a minimum qualification in special education and over 300 hours of teaching before they are given their own class to teach. We also offer subsidy program to families with financial difficulties to help them get the education.  As a social enterprise, following the Founder’s commitment, 95% of our revenue goes back to the families’ needs. “A World of Differences, Not Difficulties” is the cause we Kits4Kids envision to fulfill.

That is wonderful. Can you tell me more about your education program?

As I mentioned, we have several programs in Malaysia to cater to different age group, with different difficulties. Different countries, we have different social programs too.

Kits4Kids Malaysia offers 4 different educational programs – the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Children or what we call EIPIC, Junior Program is an academic program (following Singapore Primary School Model) for children between the ages of 7 to12 years old, Senior Program is an academic program (following IGCSE model) for children between the ages of 13 to 16 years old, and our CARE Program is a pre-vocational program for children as well as young adults.

EIPIC Program stems from our roots in Singapore where Kits4Kids was one of the pioneer to start governmental funding to providers in early intervention. It is focused on mainstreaming children back to their appropriate setting, like preschool and primary schools. Roughly, about 50% of our children return back to mainstream and we are working hard to mirror Singapore where the percentage is 80% mainstreaming. We focus primarily on developmental milestones using TEACCH methodology, integrated with preschool curriculum and play focused approaches.

K4K Junior and Senior Programs are academic programs serving 7 to 16 years old, adopting Singapore GCE and IGCSE curriculum. However, accommodations and modifications to the individual are made, supporting them to mainstream back to national or international schools. We have many students who completed halfway and return to various international schools in Malaysia.

K4K CARE Program is our pre-vocational program for children from 10 -18 years old. It is designed by the Kits4Kids together with New York college, Daemen for vocational and life skills acquisition. Unlike other programs, it is a balance between functional academics and vocational skills, thus enabling our special adults earlier for inclusion into society.

Here at Kits4Kids, we have our own copyright model for intervention which is a combination of IEP, Portfolio assessment, Progress Monitoring tools and Communication materials. These are constructed based on clinical and educational assessment and diagnosis, including a team of special education teachers, occupational therapist, psychologist and other medical experts before our children are enrolled into any program. We take this very seriously because we want to make sure that we’re providing the best and most appropriate education each child needs.

Our children learn and work in groups but will be given one-to-one teaching when needed, usually in areas of deficits. Our educators are trained and prepared on what each child needs through weekly academic meeting. This is why our educators must be special education qualified and every month will receive special and personalized instructions based on the children in his or her class. Most of our current teachers have a related undergraduate degree with a diploma in Special education. Few are already at their postgraduate and about 30% are currently studying for their postgraduate diploma in special education. A good program must be as good as the teacher is for good intervention for us.

I see. That’s another great thing to hear. What types of special needs children do you accept into your programs?

Our programs’ placements are based on two key criteria – child’s chronological age and their developmental age. Based on this, we can gauge a child’s difficulty or disability to know which program suits. Unlike many, we are not disability focus. We are ability focus and thus we map their development based on their chronological needs and intervene. We accept all cases except for visual and hearing impairment, children with severe cerebral palsy and also children with extreme limitation on mobility.

However, our program in Kelantan accepts wheelchair-bound children because their center’s environment is conducive for a wheelchair-bound student. Most of our centers are not yet equipped with facilities to accommodate students with limited mobility, but of course we’re looking to improve on this so we’re able to accept students with this difficulty in the future.

At Kits4Kids, we are focus on special needs in areas of learning disabilities such as children with dyslexia, autism and ADHD/ADD. We do accept developmental delays and rare genetic disorders like Prada Willi, Down syndrome and MPS. We also provide clinical diagnosis service for parents who want to enroll their children into our programs.

How would a parent know if their child has learning disabilities or require special needs attention?

Some disabilities is progressive thus making early detection difficult. But there are many ways in which a parent can detect red flags and proceed for immediate professional help.

For example, many Malaysian children attends nurseries and kindergarten due to their chronological age. Teachers at these centers detect challenges or difficulties with the child and report to the parents. This should be sufficient for parents to act. Some families having more than one child often make comparisons between their children and sees red flags. Other ways of seeing red flags would be from the medical practitioners whom the family sees.

The most important thing that I want to stress here is that parents who suspect or find that their children require special needs attention shouldn’t be panic. While I know it’s not easy to do this, parents should always have their children clinically diagnosed by certified and qualified practitioners such as pediatricians or clinical psychologists because they are able to identify whether a child is reaching his or her appropriate milestones or not. Other professionals in education and therapies may also be professionals to look for.

One of the common mistakes parents make is to overload themselves with information, especially by believing everything they read on the Internet and start to label their own children without consulting any qualified practitioners. It is wise to get second opinion just to be sure, but always check with certified specialists so that not only you don’t make the mistake of giving your child what he or she doesn’t need, but also to make sure that you’re certain about your child’s condition in order to know what’s best for him or her.

Is there any foundation doing what you’re doing?

There are many NGOs and private providers in Malaysia but our social enterprise model should be unique. Charities usually need public funds to fulfill their cause. Private providers need to market their programs to fulfill their needs. Kits4Kids Malaysia grow organically by using the 5% funds reserved yearly to serve our families. Fortunately, our team of educators are enriched beyond financial returns, including our founding members do not take any profits and envision us to do what our pockets allows.

While private, another important element of Kits4Kids is to collaborate and empower other organizations to serve in this social area. We worked together with NGOs who are advocating in similar cause, usually those small ones without sufficient funds or adequate training. However, having said that, I believe Kits4Kids Foundation is the only one of its kind that provide an extensive program progression in different locations for special needs children. I believe we are the largest network worldwide which include higher education colleges, clinics and social businesses developed for special people, following our tagline “Special People for Special People”.

In the time you’ve been in Malaysia, what is your biggest challenge?

That would have the difficulty to find dedicated and qualified teachers and therapists. Since we have our university to train qualified teachers, it is the dedication that is most difficult to find in todays commercialized society.

It is often not difficult to hire teachers, but it’s a challenge to hire a teacher with passion and drive that do a great job. We are lucky enough to have good teachers who are willing to learn and puts in obvious effort in ensuring they’re the best educators their students can get. Even teachers trained under us for at least 3 years, they become seniors or lecturers in special education.

We’re constantly working on teachers’ development and education to ensure our educators to ensure constant quality. Our business is unusual because 99% of all Kits4Kids staff are educators so we are constantly looking for dedicated people to extend our service. As mentioned before, “Special People for Special People”, we need good people and that’s the most difficult to find in Malaysia.

Thank you so much for a wonderful interview. I’ve learned a lot. And thank you for your time.

You’re welcome. And thank you for having me.