THE newly launched Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 will undoubtedly be the subject of much discussion and debate among stakeholders.
Parents and teachers of children with special needs would have zeroed in on news of the blueprint target to make inclusive education available to 75% of special students in mainstream schools by 2025 (“Ministry: More special needs children to go mainstream,” The Star, Sept 7). At present this is available to just 8.3% of such students.
Is this target realistic? Is it achievable? Much depends on political will. Yes, it is doable – if the powers that be show that they mean business. The honorable ministers involved should start right away on the following measures:
Enrolment. Ensure that every child is given a place in public schools, regardless of whether he or she has special needs or not. Go down to school level and make certain there is no discrimination. Stay true to your commitment to have “no child left behind”.
School leadership. Ensure that the leaders truly lead the way. May we never hear stories again of principals who are reluctant to accept special students or to allow them to sit for national examinations, to maintain the school’s high performance status. Change the way KPIs are measured if necessary. May every headmaster be a bastion of understanding and protector of the rights of special children in their charge.
Teacher training. Only a small portion of teacher training institutions in the country include Special Education in their curriculum. Every teacher trainee, whether he or she becomes a Special Education or mainstream teacher, must be exposed to the pedagogical needs of Special Needs children so they are able to understand these special learners and include them in the school community. Let us begin to put this in place today.
Infrastructure. Be forthcoming with funding, be it for software or hardware. Yes, educating special children requires substantial outlay. A whole team of professionals is needed – therapists, psychologists, teachers. Some special equipment may be necessary. But see it as an investment in the lives of hundreds of thousands of special individuals. Beyond that, remember it is a right that has for too long been denied to special children.
Monitoring. Implementation of this initiative needs to be closely monitored. A special child may be physically present in the classroom to comply with regulations, yet to all intents and purposes he is invisible to his teacher and classmates. There are also many degrees of inclusion and it is not a one-size-fits-all matter.
An inclusive programme needs to be tailored for each child based on his type and degree of disability and the capabilities of the school community.
It was noted in the article that of the special needs students enrolled in government schools, 93% have intellectual disabilities; only 7% have physical and sensory disabilities. There is a most pressing need to get the system in place for this burgeoning population of children.
As we aspire towards world-class students, may the blueprint implementers also be uncompromising on plans for special education, so that special children may take their rightful place in society – side-by-side with their non-disabled peers.
Angeline Lim Petaling Jaya The STAR Online Home Opinion Letters 09/09/2103