Ms Chan finds meaning in her work with special needs children. PHOTO: SAM YEO

A caring heart

MOE educational psychologist Olivia Chan relishes working with special needs children, their parents and teachers

SHE has a caring heart and a considerate head in a compassionate profession. One of the biggest challenges Ms Olivia Chan faces at work is helping parents come to terms with their child’s disability and make decisions on providing appropriate support for their child.

The 31-year-old educational psychologist from the Ministry of Education (MOE) thrives in working with special needs children, as well as those who guide them in everyday life.

“Sometimes, a child’s needs may be severe and an alternative educational setting may be more suitable to meet their needs. “For instance, a child with intellectual disability may be better supported in a special school where the environment is more structured, where the teacher-student ratio is smaller and where there are therapy services provided in school,” she explains.

She has to positively psyche the parents, and even teachers, as it can be difficult for them to overcome the stigma of a learning disability label. It is a constant challenge she relishes as she works closely to “help them see that every child has unique strengths and talents and that they can experience success if given the right support and learning environment”.

She says: “I strive to help parents and educators see that they have key roles to play in helping children develop holistically to prepare for the challenges that the future may bring.”

Initial work years

Ms Chan has been working at the Psychological Services Branch in Education Services Division at MOE since 2007. She recalls that the initial years at work were tough to navigate.

“There was so much to learn, not enough time, and an incredible amount of self-doubt to manage. “However, MOE provides many opportunities for professional development, which include on-thejob training, supervision as well as countless courses, workshops and conferences,” she says.

Ms Chan graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor in Social Sciences with Honours.

She started at MOE as an associate psychologist and undertook a two-year Diploma in Educational Psychology, conducted on-the-job in Singapore through the University College London and NTU-NIE joint initiative programme at the National Institution of Education. Now eight years on the job, she says there is still lots to learn.

“I’m incredibly grateful to have had nurturing supervisors, mentors and reporting officers to guide me through my personal and professional development over the years,” she says.

Changing perspectives

What keeps Ms Chan on her toes is a caring heart. She explains: “Looking at sheer numbers, children with special educational needs are the minority in the population. It is for this reason that being advocates for them is equal parts challenging and meaningful.

“Influencing mindsets and changing perspectives in a society that takes great pride in academic success and economic achievement is an uphill task.

“Over the years, however, our society has made great progress towards being increasingly inclusive.”

To the younger generation of school leavers who are keen to start a challenging psychological career at MOE, she advises: “Know what your values are and where your passions lie because these shape the inner compass that will guide you in your personal and professional lives.”