Never say ‘Can’t’, says Kan


All smiles: Kan taking a picture with his students

THROUGHOUT his seven years of taking on the mantle of a special education teacher, Kan Fook Keong has faced a number of challenges.

One of them was having to constantly manage his students’ emotions. “Some of these students have difficulty handling and expressing their emotions, which affects the way they behave and respond in the classroom,” the Keningau Vocational College, Sabah, teacher told StarEdu.

Citing a student with hearing disability who “had anger issues and was very aggressive”, he said the student almost wanted to punch him at one point.When Kan decided to change his teaching style by paying more attention to the student, the latter eventually behaved better.He added that while he had learnt special education theories at university, they do not help as much to cater to the experience in the actual classroom.“I learnt that there’s no definite way to handle a student because everyone has their unique ways of learning, so we have to cater to that.

“If one approach doesn’t work, try another.“Try again until you find one that suits your student,” said the recent recipient of the 2023 Special Education Network & Inclusion Association (SENIA) World Changer Award.Raising his concerns about the “worrying” lack of awareness of the special needs group, Kan said this needs to be tackled so the group would be able to get more job opportunities and be given more choices to further their studies.

“People often fail to see that everyone can succeed in their own unique ways and that it’s all about making them realise their true strengths and potential,” Kan said, adding that society often “does not even try to get to know the special needs group deeper and often stereotype them for the type of disability that they have”.

Countering the misconception that “when one is deaf, one is unable to succeed in life”, Kan pointed out that there have been deaf people who have done well, such as deaf teacher Amril Nurman Lokman, who won the Special Education Icon for Teachers with Disabilities in 2019, in conjunction with the Kuala Lumpur Education Department National Teachers Day celebration.

‘Step up support’Parents and teachers, said Kan, play a huge role in the students’ success. He is of the firm belief that if parents took the initiative to learn ways to help their special needs children, the latter would have a very high chance to succeed.“When I brought my special needs students to participate in a pitching competition, I discovered that they could do more.

“This is proof that they are able to do things that normal people can. We just need to provide them with enough chances and guide them,” he said.On his part, he has uplifted his students by training them to pitch their projects using sign language, which resulted in the team winning a number of medals through several innovation competitions.

He also kickstarted a vegan food project after discovering that most of his students were vegetarians, which in turn promoted a healthier lifestyle among the students with minimal environmental harm.

Emphasising the power of media tools, Kan recommended that the government and non-governmental organisations create awareness videos and share success stories of special needs figures on their social media platforms and official websites.

“It’s crucial that this is done so the community would be able to put themselves in the shoes of people with disabilities, and provide support to them,” he said, while sharing his initiative to motivate his special needs students with such success and inspirational stories so they are brave enough to chase their dreams.

“For me, being a special education teacher means you have to treat your students as your own, you have to learn how to be patient and more importantly, not give up on educating and helping them so they can succeed in their own unique ways.”

The SENIA World Changer Award recognises individuals who actively promote inclusion in their communities.Kan’s win was announced on the SENIA International website on March 2.

The SENIA World Changer Award recognises individuals who actively promote inclusion in their communities.

Previous Malaysian recipients include special education teachers Lana Abon and Avyasvina Istiniza Anak Unong, who both won the award last year.

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