Tucked amidst the high rise apartment buildings and chic cafes of Solaris Mont Kiara, the Hils Learning Centre is a warm, lightfilled space where children with learning difficulties are nurtured and encouraged under the careful care of Hilary Craig.
Hilary, a specialist teacher hailing from the west coast of Ireland, has a life-long passion for education, and it was an eye-opening encounter during her time in Canada that first planted the idea of a specialist centre. “I was working at a community college teaching a group of ex-convicts,” she says, explaining how the male-dominated group possessed very low literacy rates. After speaking with them, however, Hilary deduced that the men were much more capable than they had been given credit for. “These convicts were exceptionally bright beings that had fallen in with the wrong crowd,” she remembers. “Once given the pportunity and the support they needed in reading or writing, they all surpassed expectations.”
This uplifting experience showed Hilary that educational progress often requires more than meets the eye; an insight that was reinforced as she helped her son, who has severe dyslexia, find his way through education. “My son struggled at school,” she recalls, “but some great people helped us along the way, as a result he now has a Master’s degree.”
Having witnessed the impact of good support on a child’s development, Hilary established Hils. The name is not, as many might think, a shortened version of its founder’s name, but stands for “Happiness Is Learning Success” – an apt motto for the organisation. “We focus on what the problem is, before moving on to how we’re able to overcome it,” she says of their method. “Usually, it is due to a lack of confidence, so building that up is the focus. Success also rests in belief. You must believe the child can improve and do all in your power to make it happen.” That said, the team at Hils Learning is aware of their own strengths and limitations in helping the children they meet. “If the child is severely autistic or if we feel we’re in over our heads, we will send them a recommendation elsewhere,” she admits. “Our criterion is to take children whom we are able to help. They are either ‘falling between the cracks’ in school or are children who could possibly gain entry into mainstream schools. We see our role as helping the child in school to succeed or as a stepping stone to school for those children who failed to meet the initial entry requirements or for children who simply do not fit the school environment. If you want your child to go to school, we’ll try to make it as easy as possible.”
Hilary cites the holistic approach taken at Hils Learning as its defining factor. “We take a different stance on tackling problems,” she says. “We look at the child’s overall behaviour, rather than just writing them off as naughty or lazy. We also take into consideration the child’s diet, which can be a vital part of their development.” She explains how, when one boy who was deemed “hyper-active” was tested for allergies, it was discovered that he was highly allergic to many things on the list. “Needless to say once his diet changed, his behaviour followed suit.”
It is this attention to detail, coupled with the personal attention each child receives, that allows Hilary and her team to offer the best support possible to the children that step through the door. “Sessions are mostly one on one, although we do have groups of two if we’re sure the social interaction will benefit the child,” she says. “We also offer help in the homeschooling sector and have staff qualified in most of the school curriculum.”
Another crucial factor in the centre’s success is the stellar team that surrounds Hilary, and she is quick to compliment their skills. “When you have that kind of talent, it’s not difficult to achieve great things,” she says, smiling.
Offering a springboard to success is something that is quirkily represented in the centre’s corporate logo, and the little frog that adorns the official letterheads is a charming reminder of the firm aims of Hilary and her talented team. As the number of children leaping out of her centre onto bigger and better things continues to grow, there is no doubt that the Hils Learning Centre will continue to blossom in much the same way.
Published in: The Expat Magazine November 2012