Don’t leave special students behind


  • Education
  • Sunday, 28 Jun 2020

THERE are 88,352 preschool, primary and secondary school students, according to the Education Ministry, who have global developmental delay (GDD), intellectual disability, autism, Down Syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia (severe difficulty in making arithmetic calculations), dysgraphia (unable to write coherently) and dyslexia (difficulty in reading or interpreting words, letters and other symbols), among other learning disabilities.

Sadly, this group were sidelined during the pandemic, the Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) report on how the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted education for 4.9 million Malaysian students, found.

Educational initiatives rolled out to schools in response to the pandemic assumed that children with learning disabilities can learn as effectively via distance learning, demonstrating the lack of inclusivity in the education system, the report read.

“The government must consider the difficulties of learning at home for students with special needs. Disabled, underprivileged and underperforming students should be prioritised.

“The looming economic downturn following the lockdown will hit those from disadvantaged backgrounds especially harder with longer term consequences,” the report recommended, noting that the closure of schools, and gaps in teaching and learning activities during the health crisis had affected children unevenly.

National Association of Special Education honorary secretary Prof Loh Sau Cheong believes that such children need time to adapt to new learning methods.

“They require structure or scaffolding in their daily schedules to be able to learn. Parents, teachers and caregivers have to be extra patient with special needs children, especially during e-learning as it takes time for them to get used to online instructional delivery.

“Otherwise, the children may feel ‘lost’ in front of computer screens or be bored easily at home during the movement control order (MCO) which will lead to tantrums.”

Prof Loh, who is also Universiti Malaya Educational Psychology and Counseling Department head, said the ministry should start developing new e-learning approaches for special needs education that engages children.

“Inclusion can be realised more easily now given that lessons for children with learning disabilities can take place anywhere, anytime, and with anyone via an online platform.”

Pointing out that challenges and isolation for children with learning disabilities have become increasingly exacerbated, marginalising and making them more vulnerable since the MCO was implemented on Mar 18, Unicef Malaysia Child Protection and Disability specialist Zoe Gan called on the ministry to make inclusion an immediate priority.

She said children with disabilities need considerations for reasonable accommodation, the incorporation of disability-accessibility features in online and face-to-face content, differentiated curriculum and recognition that they may need additional support from therapists, classroom assistants or other specialists.

“We advocate for the full adoption of inclusive education, where all children with and without disabilities learn holistically together within the mainstream schooling system. With the transition to online, Google Classrooms have accessibility features that teachers can use to ensure no child is left behind.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Care community development coordinator Rozanne Yong said the ministry needs to increase the number of qualified special education teachers and create a good support system for parents to improve special education here.

“A patient teacher who can also help parents understand how learning can be done at home to integrate a similar classroom learning environment is really effective in helping a special needs child grow.”

She added that support systems for parents and support groups are crucial not just for parents to encourage one another, but for them to be able to seek out solutions that they can implement at home and for their day-to-day activities. – By LEE CHONGHUI

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