AS paediatricians, therapists and NGOs working with children, we wish to see a fully inclusive education system which welcomes the wide diversity already existing in our society.
We wish to see that every learner is given an equal chance and that all children can be provided with the necessary support to help them achieve their full potential.
For this reason, we regard the directive from the director-general of Education Datuk Dr Amin Senin and the Education Ministry that pupils in government schools will no longer be placed in classes according to their academic abilities as a welcoming and far-sighted step towards building a more caring and inclusive society in Malaysia.
Many parents and educators may be worried that abolishing the elite system, or streaming, will mean leaving the fast learners behind. However, the most recent comprehensive review of research titled “A summary of the Evidence on Inclusive Education” (Dr Thomas Hehir, et al, professor of Practice in Learning Differences at Harvard Graduate School of Education, released in 2017) has concluded that “There is clear and consistent evidence that inclusive educational settings can confer substantial short- and long-term benefits for students with and without disabilities.”
The report is especially valuable as it identifies the benefits of inclusive education for the students without disabilities (as evidence of benefits for students with disabilities is already widely known).
This is because improving teaching pedagogy in order to support students with disabilities will inadvertently benefit ALL students. In addition, being educated alongside a student with disability, the non-disabled students in the inclusive classroom would hold less prejudicial views and are more accepting of people who are different from themselves. They would be more accepting citizens in future.
In addition, peer tutoring or peer group teaching encouraged under this new ruling would give the students giving the help another learning opportunity as “teaching is the best teacher” (Farivar and Webb, 1994).
This directive will take away the competitiveness among schools to get higher academic achievements. Instead, they can compete on inclusiveness or caring as their key performance index (KPI) and teachers can really concentrate on their first passion as teachers, which is teaching.
With this new directive, teachers will need support in making this inclusion real. Unesco has recognised the need and has a Teacher Education Resource pack available. (UNESCO: Changing Teaching Practices using curriculum differentiation to respond to students’ diversity.)
The National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) has a “Memorandum on Inclusive Education” where there are many suggestions on how this can be implemented and the transitional steps that are available (see http://www.necicmalaysia.org/newsmaster.cfm?&menuid=6&action=view&retrieveid=5).
An Inclusive Education Module has been developed by NECIC with localised teaching strategies to share with teachers.
When the Education for All movement talks about “all children”, this means being cognizant of the needs of all children in the classroom, where each child feels he or she belongs and can engage in meaningful learning opportunities. Let’s make this REAL as a Right for All our Children.
DR WONG WOAN YIING
President, NECIC and consultant paediatrician
DATUK DR AMAR-SINGH HSS
Adviser, NECIC and consultant paediatrician
DR TOH TECK HOCK
Vice-president, NECIC and consultant paediatrician