THE National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) would like to respond to the article printed in Sin Chew Daily on March 5 titled “Poor Awareness of Special Education”.The council is a coalition of parents, practitioners and professionals from non-governmental organisations and governmental agencies involved in advocacy with policymakers for early childhood intervention as a Right.We appreciate the comments from Mah Hang Soon, the Deputy Education Minister, highlighting the lack of trained teachers to teach students with special needs in the government schools, and the importance of education for children with special needs.Firstly, we would like to clarify that Community-based Rehabilitation (Program Pemulihan Dalam Komuniti – PDK) programmes are established to act as one-stop centres in the local communities to provide rehabilitation and training services to people with disabilities and help integrate them into the community, including schools.In 2018, all PDKs were instructed to register under the Registrar of Societies as non-governmental organisations. PDK programmes however, are regulated by the Department of Social Welfare (JKM) and do not function as educational institutions.While PDK programmes are beneficial for providing early intervention to young children and preparing them for school, children with special needs do not receive formal education under PDK programmes.More cost-effectiveSecondly, inclusive education for children with special needs is the way forward. Only a small proportion of children with special needs (about 1% to 2% of all children) with profound disabilities and who require a lot of support will need special education integrated programme (Program Pendidikan Khas Integrasi – PPKI).Another 10% to 15% of children who have milder disabilities (e.g., mild/borderline intellectual disabilities, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, cerebral palsy without intellectual disabilities, visual/hearing impairment, etc.) are more suited in an inclusive setting.Inclusive education is more cost-effective than segregated, special education. For example, according to UNESCO, special schools are 15 times more expensive per student than mainstream schools that include children with disabilities.Inclusive education means that all children, regardless of characteristics and learning abilities, learn alongside their peers and are fully engaged in quality education.Inclusion is not about the child fitting in and meeting mainstream education targets but about making changes to the school system and environment to ensure all children participate fully and meaningfully in school.Children with and without special needs not only benefit but thrive in inclusive settings. Approximately 50 years of research evidence is clear that children with special needs in supportive, inclusive classrooms have better academic skills, such as language, reading and math skills, form positive peer relationships, develop better socialisation and have fewer behavioural problems than being placed in segregated settings.Inclusive education also prepares children with special needs for the realities of the real world and increases their chances of being gainfully employed and living independently.Contrary to mainstream belief, there is no evidence that inclusive education hinders the academic outcomes of children without special needs. This is because inclusive practices address learning and participation barriers for both children with and without special needs.Research evidence also showed that students without special needs who learned alongside their peers with special needs have less fear of human differences and are more adept at interacting with people who look or behave differently, which reduces discrimination and bullying in schools.Hence inclusion fosters awareness, acceptance and appreciation of individual differences and diversity.Stress Zero Reject PolicyIn Malaysia, we have policies that support the implementation of inclusive education in our schools. The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025 has set a target to achieve 75% of children with special needs in mainstream inclusive education programmes by 2025.According to the Zero Reject Policy, students with special needs can register at their school of choice, including schools without the PPKI. Besides that, the results of children with special needs in mainstream schools are not included in the school’s overall performance in public examinations.However, the impact of these policies on the ground is still limited. According to data from the Ministry of Education, in 2019, 40,863 of 82,275 (49.6%) students with special needs were enrolled in full (15,865) or partial (24,998) inclusive education programmes in mainstream primary and secondary schools.Partial inclusion indicates that students with special needs are being educated in segregated special education classrooms for some parts of their school schedule.Yet, the number of students with special needs enrolled with the ministry is far less than expected.Globally, the World Bank estimates that at least 15% of all children have disability or special needs.According to the National Health Morbidity Survey 2019, 4.7% of all children aged 2-17 in Malaysia has at least one domain of functional difficulty in hearing, vision, communication/comprehension, learning, mobility and emotions.Based on the estimated population of children under 18 years old in 2019, there would be approximately 437,100 children with disabilities or special needs in Malaysia.Hence, a large number of children with disabilities or special needs is not enrolled with the ministry. Besides the fact that many children with special needs are still not identified as having special needs, the large discrepancy is also due to parents opting to obtain education outside ministry facilities due to the limited availability of supportive, inclusive education provision.Support and careNECIC believes that Malaysia can implement inclusive education that supports the diverse needs of our students with special needs.In a 2018 survey regarding parents’ experiences with inclusive education in Malaysia, many parents identified that supportive and caring class teachers and school principals made inclusive education happen for their child with special needs.Some parents in the survey also mentioned that having teachers or shadow aide (teaching assistant) trained in special education helped facilitate the inclusion of their child with special needs in mainstream classrooms.At the same time, NECIC acknowledges that mainstream teachers need full support to make inclusive education happen. We would like to suggest that the Ministry of Education (MOE) train more mainstream education teachers to be equipped with inclusive education practices.Mainstream teachers should also be encouraged to introduce inclusive teaching practices in the classroom, such as incorporating tiered instructions, multiple ways to demonstrate learning, visual strategies, brain breaks, etc.Besides training, mainstream teachers should also receive practical support from parents, professionals, and special education teachers to effectively teach students with special needs in the mainstream inclusive classroom.Parents, professionals and special education teachers are a valuable resource to help mainstream teachers plan accommodations to support the learning of students with special needs. Especially in mainstream schools with PPKI classes, special education teachers could be instrumental in supporting mainstream teachers to differentiate and co-teach lessons, adapt teaching materials, and lesson instructions, as well as plan behavioural and social skills support strategies.We would also like to encourage mainstream schools to benefit from the 2018 ministry circular on “Sukarelawan Di Dalam Kelas” (In-class Volunteers), which allows parents or shadow aides to be present with the child with special needs to support the child in the inclusive classroom.For students with hearing impairment and use sign language, having a sign-language interpreter in the mainstream classroom as an in-class volunteer is crucial to her/his school experience.An inclusive and accessible learning environment is as important as well-trained teachers in inclusive practices to enable effective inclusive education implementation.Hence, funding should also be channelled into creating an inclusive and accessible environment in mainstream schools, such as ensuring all classrooms and school facilities are disabled-friendly and autism-friendly.The concern that our mainstream schools and teachers are not yet ready for inclusive education is real. However, it should not stop us from implementing inclusive education in all our mainstream government schools.While we wait for the ministry to provide teachers with more training and knowledge, we hope that district education offices and schools could be empowered to engage with the disability and special needs community to provide hands-on training for teachers.A supportive and inclusive attitude will enable children with special needs to participate in mainstream schools fully. Inclusive education is a right for all children, and it is our responsibility to make the right real. – March 6, 2021.*Ng Lai Thin (Project Officer, NECIC), Prof. Dr Toh Teck Hock (Vice President, NECIC & Consultant Paediatrician), Dr Amar-Singh HSS (Adviser, NECIC & Consultant Paediatrician). * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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