Support for Mainstream Teachers

Support for Mainstream Teachers

Date: 7th March 2016

We would like to thank our Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan for highlighting the needs of special needs children. He is reported as saying “…. the ministry will train mainstream schools teachers, to ensure special education students will also get the same educational opportunities as students at regular schools” (Bernama report, 24th February 2016). It was also reported that Datuk Kamalanathan encouraged “ … non-governmental organisations to work with the ministry by sharing knowledge and providing assistance to identify the problems faced by special education teachers“. 
We would like to take him up on offering ideas on the problems faced by teachers, children with special needs and their parents. Our minister says that there are adequate special education teachers to meet the needs of 60,875 students in the special education programme. While this may look good on ‘paper’ it is important to note that this represents a small fraction of the real number of children with special needs in school. Currently the special education programme only caters for children with the moderately severe disabilities. 
A conservative estimate suggests that there are 400,000 children with special needs currently in primary schools all over the country (10-15 per cent of all children). These are children with specific learning disorders (eg Dyslexia), high functioning Autism, ADHD, mild intellectual disability, etc. Many of them are children with a normal intelligence who face barriers to education and are often considered ‘failures’. Intellectual disability affects about 2–3 per cent of the general population. 75–90 per cent of the affected people have mild intellectual disability. Unfortunately in Malaysia, most are considered moderate to severe because of the lack of our teaching ability. To place such a large volume of children in the special education programme would be a travesty. Teachers in mainstream schools struggle with them and need not just training but practical support. 

If we want to consider ourselves a nation that is moving to developed status then it is time we reform our system and inject adequate manpower resources. The workable example from many successful countries is inclusive education; children with special needs, however severe, are included in main stream education. While this is the spirit of our National Education Blueprint, the reality is that we have fallen far short of our 2015 target of 15 per cent inclusion.   

There are two immediate actions that our honourable minister can take to improve our situation and assist the children with special needs and main stream teachers.  

The first is to transform our special education programme into an inclusive education programme. All our ‘special education units’ should be re-branded into ‘inclusive education units’ and their aim should be to facilitate children with special needs to stay in main stream education/class. This will change the outlook of teachers and society. The acceptance of children with special needs in normal class will also benefit the other students. 

The second is to immediately formalise a teacher aide (shadow aid) programme. Many mainstream teachers are keen to teach children with special needs and have the abilities but are unable to do so in a regular class of 30 children or more. Main stream teachers desperately need help and support for the children with special needs in their class. While waiting for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to make available the staffing, parents and NGOs can, in some instance, provide the resources for a teacher aide. The lack of a firm commitment by MOE on this hinders the support that these children and teachers require. 

The teacher aide can work in partnership with the class teacher to deliver the material to the child. It is also important to modify the classroom environment and make it more friendly and conducive. In addition, a buddy support for system for the child with special needs will also go a long way in providing acceptance and help. Having personally met the MOE director, we know that he believes in inclusion and that children who are doing well educationally should support their peers who are struggling. 

We hope our Deputy Education Minister can hear this plea. 

As a nation we seem to spend more time on training and committees than action. 

The time for more and more training is past. 

What teachers require is practical support. 

What children need is action today, not tomorrow. 

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, President, National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC); Consultant Paediatrician. 

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