Teachers urged to create safe and supportive space for students
IN an equitable and inclusive education system, equal access to high-quality education for all students, including indigenous students and students with special needs, is of utmost importance. However, the reality falls short of meeting expected standards.
A report by Bernama indicated that a significant 42.29% of Orang Asli students did not complete their studies up to Form Five in 2021. This was accompanied by data provided by former senator Datuk Isa Abdul Hamid, who highlighted that out of some 206,777 Orang Asli residing in Peninsular Malaysia, only 2% of their children successfully attained tertiary studies.
Furthermore, a 2019 article by the National Early Childhood Intervention Council (Necic) shed light on another issue. Despite the Education Ministry’s report stating that 25,396 students with special needs were enrolled in inclusive mainstream classrooms in 2017, more than half of them, totalling 13,081 students, experienced only partial inclusion.
These students face formidable barriers in accessing a quality education. As a result of the lack of support and resources in mainstream schools for these groups, they are often directed to separate institutions with a different curriculum, leading to their isolation from other children.
Such segregation is inadequate to move the needle of progress towards the country’s aspiration of housing an equitable society.
Developing these students outside the real-world context does not equip them to adapt to people of different profiles, as well as the complex dynamic realities we live in. Likewise, the removal of fellowship with special needs children hinders the fostering of respect and tolerance for those who are different.
At best, you get pragmatism, and children who are different are still stuck under the marginalised category. This is where inclusive education comes in as a viable solution. Understanding how different learners learn is vital for the application of an effective, inclusive approach.
Teachers are the direct stakeholders capable of advancing this movement; hence, without a majority support, there is no basis for meaningful inclusion.
Inclusive education demands that teachers recognise and value the diversity of the student population, and they are expected to adapt their teaching methods to meet the individual needs of students.
How teachers can contribute to the fostering of inclusive education in classrooms is through the creation of a safe and supportive space where all students feel welcomed and valued despite their varying degrees of learning pace.
Clear behavioural expectations should be outlined in the classroom to cultivate a culture of acceptance and respect.
Functioning as the primary facilitators of learning, teachers should also go beyond the convention of merely delivering content.
The inclusive education approach requires teachers to employ differentiated instruction (DI) deliberately wherein the constant practice of modification and adaptation of materials, content, projects and assessments are alive to meet the diverse learning needs of students in the classroom.
Teachers may incorporate a variety of teaching methods such as visual aids, collaborative projects and hands-on activities to help everyone in the classroom move together towards development progress.
Teachers should prioritise collaborative learning through peer learning assignments to foster synergy and acceptance among able-bodied kids and specially abled children.
In addition, familiarisation with assistive technology and other tools will also come in handy to enable specially abled students to access the curriculum in the classroom.
Moving beyond mere discussion, I had the privilege to experience these noble initiatives through the lens of the winners and finalists of our RISE Educator Award. This year, we read over 200 stories of outstanding teachers but the story that moved us the most was that of our RISE Educator of the Year winner, Kumaresan Muniandy.
The special education teacher from SM Pendidikan Khas Vokasional Merbok, Kedah, started “Projek Hello School to Work” in 2018 to provide vocational training for special needs children to transition to work.
With the help of parents and industry partners, the project has trained 20 students so far and helped them gain employment.
He also initiated the “Projek School Enterprise Kedai Dobi OKU” to train students to operate their own laundry business.
His actions speak volumes about his commitment to fostering a truly inclusive educational environment. The project has even enabled students with disabilities to become independent and self-sufficient, with two students already being employed to work in the school cooperative.
Inclusion begins in the classroom. Teachers are the driving force behind the moving needle of progress for an equitable society.
The burden of teachers is great; however, the reward at the end is worth all the sacrifices and efforts needed.
Josephine Tan is Taylor’s University International Relations pro-vice-chancellor and Taylor’s College campus director with over 30 years of experience in both corporate and education sectors. Her extensive years of experience in the field of media and communication encompass the areas of organisational culture, corporate communication, human communication, as well as crisis and conflict management. She has also established the South East Asia Research for Communication and Humanities (SEARCH) Journal, which has been indexed by Scopus since 2009. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.