An education that caters to all students

Education matters: A SAMH teacher (in grey tudung) and her teaching assistant (in blue tudung) conducting motor developmental activities in class. — File pix

WITHOUT access to therapy and seasoned professionals amid the movement control order (MCO), there is a high chance that children in the special needs category would regress in their learning.

Special education teachers across the nation have tried their best to ensure their students’ continuity of learning via online channels despite knowing that it would not be as effective as face-to-face classes.

A special education teacher who declined to be named was worried about the repercussions the MCO would have on her students.

She said online learning for children with special needs was impossible because special needs students must have someone to guide them constantly and they are more comfortable when they are among friends – it motivates them.

“We can’t gauge how the students are performing because we do not get feedback from them or their parents. This indicates that the parents are not interested or patient enough to guide their children properly.

“Many parents rather do the work for their children which is easier than guiding them through it,” she explained.

The veteran educator, who cares for low functioning autistic, Down Syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder students and slow learners in school, said there needs to be a structured guideline and standard operating procedures (SOP) tailored for special needs students and teachers.

“Online classes were very challenging for both teacher and student. Many of our students come from low-income (B40) families, some of whom have no Internet access and suitable mobile devices.

“Even those who are not from the B40 category don’t have mobile phones because their parents don’t think its necessary.”

Giving homework was also a problem because the worksheets need to be printed and many families do not own a printer.

Urging the Education Ministry to train more qualified special needs teachers, she said there must be more schools or centres that offer special education.

“For example, there are only two (national) schools in Puchong which offer special education programmes, but there are many more special needs children out there,” she said, adding that the appropriate teacher-student ratio for a special needs class is one teacher to three or four students.

“There are already too many students in special education classes now, with more than 10 students to one teacher. It is very difficult and tiring for us to manage them,” she said.

Selangor and Federal Territory Association For the Mentally Handicapped (SAMH) principal V. Krishnaveni Vellayatham is thankful for proactive parents who take the initiative to help their children keep up with lessons throughout the MCO.She said online lessons for the centre’s children have been successful because parents played their part and were interested in guiding their children every step of the way.

“We would provide the lessons such as growth motor activities and worksheets online or via Whatsapp. Parents would then use these to guide the children.

“The MCO was a good opportunity for parents to understand their children and also realise how hard teachers work to help their children.

“I believe that most, if not all parents, would have developed a new sense of respect for teachers because of the MCO,” she said with a chuckle.SAMH will be resuming face-to-face classes tomorrow.

She, however, predicts that only a few students would turn up as parents are still cautious about Covid-19.“The younger students will continue their online lessons at home, but the older ones are eager to return. They have been calling me and asking when they will be allowed to do so as they are bored at home,” she shared.

What concerns Krishnaveni is the lack of enthusiasm among students who have gotten used to staying at home.

“Laziness to prepare for school and travel have kicked in from the prolonged stay at home.”

Katherine Ho, a primary caregiver to Jonathan Chia, 25, who is on the autism spectrum and is hyperactive, said it is a challenge to get her son to understand the change in his daily routine.“For those with autism, a change in routine without a suitable transition period is difficult. Jason learns by imitating and he is very visual.

“We help him cope and understand using visual aids such as videos, pictures, YouTube, and the news to show him how people are reacting to the pandemic and why we cannot leave the house.

“But the differnt routine has led to changes in his mood, behaviour and sleeping pattern,” she said, adding that it takes time for special needs children to digest and understand information, which is why caregivers and family members must have bountiful patience, understanding and compassion to allow their children to adjust and adapt at their own pace. With the help of her husband and their other two children, Ho created a new routine which was sustainable and doable from home.

“Video calls were used to let him communicate with his friends and teachers, who were very encouraging.”

Ho, who is the founder and president of Bright Stars Special Needs Charity Association, hopes that the Education Ministry and Department of Social Welfare will look into improving the country’s special education facilities.

“Although the ministry has been making good progress in tailoring programmes to fit special needs children, there is still a shortage of special education teachers and not enough equipment in preschools, primary and secondary schools that offer special education programmes.”

She noted that the ministry’s Special Education Department has been active in gathering input from NGOs nationwide via brainstorming workshops and meetings but an action plan has yet to be put into place. Meanwhile, SMK Taman Tun Dr Ismail Form Five student Isra Gomez, who is dyslesxic, finally returned to school on Wednesday after three months of e-learning.

His father Edward Gomez described the virtual lessons as challenging especially for text heavy subjects like History.

The lack of interaction between students and teachers was demotivating, he said.

“Isra had been making progress in the subject before the MCO thanks to a capable History teacher in school.

“Although he has been trying hard to keep up with the subject, his performance has regressed after going three months without face-to-face classes.

“It has been frustrating for him.”

For the other subjects, Isra had help from his uncle who taught him Mathematics. He was also able to cope with language subjects by watching movies and videos while making notes on a collection of words and vocabularies.Special needs children can easily fall back on their lessons when there is no structure, said Edward who is a part-time lecturer.

He said a plan is required should another pandemic occur.

“All teachers, not only those who are in special education, are not equipped to manage online classes. They were unsure of what to do when the MCO was implemented and many also do not know how to operate mobile devices and applications.”

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