Covid-19: Impact on special needs group

Special needs students learn better in school. They can’t sit in front of the phone or computer for a long time. But when schools reopened, some children couldn’t attend because they didn’t want to wear masks. Parents need to learn how to do behaviour modification, and together with teachers, think of creative ways to make sure children use the masks. Superhero designs may excite them, for example. Deaf children look at the movement of their teachers’ mouths, so rather than using masks, teachers should be allowed to wear face shields. When remote learning is done, some students with low vision can’t see what’s on their phones or computers. They need support from their parents. We also have problems with students from special education vocational schools. For example, some study in Kedah but live in Kelantan. It’s especially hard for teachers to carry out competency tests with the students. But there are ways for teachers to be innovative. For example, at the start of the pandemic, the Melaka Education Department asked parents to pick up cooking ingredients. Teachers then had a video call where they carried out cooking lessons with their students. Teachers can also include children with special needs when livestreaming with mainstream students. That’s one thing schools can do to make sure all children are included. We want special needs students together with their peers if not for all classes, then during certain activities.

Education Ministry Special Education Division former director Prof Datuk Dr Yasmin Hussain

First and foremost, it is important to distinguish regular, planned practice of online instruction from the kind of instruction occurring immediately after schools were shuttered. The teachers and students were not ready. We have to overcome the gap. There is no face-to-face communication, what more dealing with behavioural issues and needs. Two cohorts of my (special education programme) students completed their teaching practice online. They had difficulty communicating with their students, organising synchronous sessions, and assisting and supervising their special needs students with insufficient teaching aids. My students came up with their own teaching videos, prepared materials and handed them over to parents physically. Online teaching is not a 100% solution to the current situation. Teachers can make wonderful plans but to what extent does the lesson reach students? The connection in between is questionable.

Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) senior lecturer Dr Grace Annammal Piragasam

Our children lost one year of education, and I speak on behalf of the autism community. They missed out on therapy, school and a proper structure. People with autism need to follow a schedule. Not only did you take away the structure, but you also taught on computer. Many had difficulty sitting their children in front of the computer to do work. For these children, computer time is entertainment time, not looking at their teachers teaching them. Teachers have to talk to parents. For example, instead of a 10am to 12pm session, maybe just have it for 20 minutes. There has to be give and take between educators, parents and children.

National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM) former chairperson Feilina Feisol

I teach deaf students and those with mild learning disabilities. I use Zoom and Google Meet to carry out remote learning, sometimes at night. I have one student who comes to my house to learn because he has problems with Internet access. As many of my students stay in the interior areas of Sabah, their Internet connection is weak. Previously I got a letter from the police station, giving me permission to travel to my students’ houses to check in on them and pass them their homework. But sometimes, students use poor Internet access as an excuse not to do their work. When I checked their handphones, I could see the number of hours they had been on social media. Students can’t focus and understand well with remote learning. It is also hard to test their performance. Some of them got good marks because they copied answers from Google Search. Deaf students learn through mouth movements. When I’m conducting physical classes in the college, I have no choice but to teach without my mask.

Keningau Vocational College, Sabah, special education teacher

Kan Fook Keong

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