Teaching STEAM subjects to children of all abilities: Meet the woman behind Discovering Without Borders

(PHOTO: Discovering Without Borders)
(PHOTO: Discovering Without Borders)

Welcome to the Local Heroes series, where we highlight inspiring stories by people in Singapore who are using their skills to do good.

SINGAPORE – Learning subjects such as science, arts, and maths can be challenging for children, especially if they have specific difficulties in learning. Established in 2015, social enterprise Discovering Without Borders (DWB) seeks to reach and impact all groups of people through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) learning, as well as closing the gaps between disadvantaged groups in accessing resources.

Through interactive and fun workshops, Yen Siow, founder of DWB, seeks to bring equal opportunities in STEAM learning to children of all abilities. Yahoo Lifestyle SEA understands more from Yen about DWB, her partnership with Dayspring shelter, and volunteering in Singapore.

“After years of experience running workshops in the university sector, I wanted to branch out and offer a meaningful program that would reach children and offer equal opportunity to everyone to learn these subjects. I have seen the rising cost of tuition and enrichment classes and realised that there was a segment of society who would fall behind and miss out on learning due to social, financial and physical barriers,” Yen explained.

(PHOTO: Discovering Without Borders)
(PHOTO: Discovering Without Borders)

Since the founding of DWB, Yen had shared STEAM learning resources with refugee centres, children’s homes, women’s shelters, orphanages, indigenous communities and special needs schools. Eager to change the world through education, Yen finds herself over-agreeing to help in projects and community outreach events: “I then find myself working on overdrive most of the time having to compete with many pressing deadlines!”

Having run many carefully designed workshops for children, Yen shared that her most memorable experience was a two-week STEAM program for a special needs school. Going in with her usual plan that was prepared for schools and communities, she was taken aback by the differences in teaching special needs children. Compared to what she was used to doing, it was the first time she was working on her own with special needs children.

“It was very trying, and I was not adequately prepared for the children’s constant need for supervision and attention. However, after some consultation with the school staff members, I was able to recognise the children’s learning styles and adapt my program to meet their engagement levels.”

Looking back at the two-week program, Yen shared that it was a great milestone in stepping into uncharted waters, especially when creating an inclusive learning environment for all children – a passion she holds close to heart. Since then, she has been trained in certain areas of special needs education and is now better equipped to serve and support learning for children with special needs.

(PHOTO: Yen Siow)
(PHOTO: Yen Siow)

“After five years of running DWB workshops, I have seen an increase in children attending the workshops who have sensory processing disorder or children who are on the Autism Spectrum. Which is great, as it means I am breaking down barriers to learning and creating environments that are safe and comfortable for these families to attend.”

Not only is Yen creating an environment for learning amongst children of all abilities, but she had also partnered with Dayspring shelter through DWB to provide employment opportunities.

It started in 2015 when she started DWB that her friend pointed out that the Dayspring shelter for Abused Teenage Girls and the Dayspring shelter for Unsupported Pregnancies were located within five minutes from Yen’s residence. Her friend suggested that she can reach out to these shelters, to offer help or support.

“I knew, as a mother myself, that there are anxieties around how you would provide for your children and so I started my journey with the shelter by offering the women and the teenage girls casual employment with Discovering without Borders. I was able to employ over 20 women and teenage girls from the shelters by providing paid work experience and opportunities for professional development,” Yen added.

(PHOTO: Discovering Without Borders)
(PHOTO: Discovering Without Borders)

Aligning with DWB’s core mission, Yen offered women at the shelters work opportunities, connected them to experiences that encourage self-development and showed genuine care for these ladies.

With the ongoing pandemic, DWB now offers more online learning opportunities on its platform, and Yen is currently running Zoom sessions, providing online learning resources for refugee centres, schools, charities and orphanages all over Australasia. More than 20 STEAM videos had since been created for schools to stream and download so that learning can continue despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I currently run three weekly programs for groups of disadvantaged children and recruit professionals (volunteers) to join me online to help facilitate the learning.”

Volunteers play an important part in DWB, helping children learn from interactions, and their life stories can serve to help inspire the children. “I have worked with many volunteers both with personal lived experiences and with professional work experiences,” Yen shared.

DWB uses its volunteers’ experiences and inputs, and working with them on-site to add depth and enriches their STEAM topics. Previously collaborated with an Australia-based cardiologist for DWB’s STEAM lesson on “Our Heart”, Yen spoke with children from the Rohingya refugee centre about heart disease through fun and engaging sessions. These activities had allowed the children to connect well and learn better in her lessons.

Anyone who wants to be a part of DWB’s work in outreach and helping children of all ages to learn STEAM topics can reach out directly to DWB via their website.

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