The recently concluded 5th National Early Childhood Intervention Conference was a success not just because of the 1,000 children, parents, professionals, NGOs and others who participated but because of the wonderful children that spoke or performed.
Three children stand out:
Natalie Dong (10 years old) was the MC for the VIP first plenary at which the Unicef director of Malaysia spoke. Natalie is profoundly deaf but, with the hard work of her family and a cochlear implant, she has great speech and attends a normal class.
Ng Jun Yin (11 years old) was the second VIP speaker at the first plenary. He has autism but spoke flawlessly, without any text in front of him. He shared about his need to be seen as a child first, rather than as a disability. His parents commitment has seen him do well academically in a normal class.
Finally, Ernest Teoh (14 years old) gave a number of stellar violin performances. Ernest is blind but due to the persistence of his family, is doing well academically in a normal class. He also passed his Violin Grade 8 at 11 years of age.
These delightful children impressed all of us with their capability and abilities.
During the open dialogue with managers from Ministry of Health, Education and Welfare, Ernest made an impassionate plea. He is keen to become a scientist but Ministry of Education (MOE) policy is that visually impaired children cannot do science as they cannot participate in science experiments.
Ernest argued that some of the best scientists in the world are disabled, such as Stephen Hawking. The representative from MOE said that they will consider his request.
The National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) made a promise to Ernest that our collation of over 25 NGOs will strive to make his dream a reality, even if we have to organise a memorandum to MOE.
So this is open letter to the Prime Minister and MOE, a plea for Ernest. Do not let the dreams of any single child fail because we did not offer the chance to see them become real. Ernest has already overcome insurmountable odds to be included in a normal class. It is only a small leap further to allow him do science and modify the environment to support him.
We trust that our leaders and the MOE will implement the Incheon Strategy (with the objective of improving the lives of persons with disability): "Make the Right Real". And do this by making real the policy of inclusive education on the ground, starting with Ernest.
Who knows, Ernest may be our first winner of a Nobel Prize in Science.
We await your positive response for Ernest, his family, the families of all children with disability and the Malaysian people to hear.
The Malaysian Insider
A plea for the boy who wants to be a scientist
The Malay Mail Online
The boy (born blind) who would be a scientist
The Malay Mail
'Ernest' plea to realise a child's dream