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Prioritise special education needs

Bhutan has made impressive development in the area of inclusive education. But more needs to be done.

Special education, otherwise known as special needs education or aided education, is the practice of educating students with special educational needs in a way that addresses their individual differences and needs. What this demands is individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment, materials, and accessible settings, among others. At the heart of the idea is to help individuals with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and in their community.

We have 14 Special Education Needs (SEN) schools in the country today. The education ministry has plans to add one more in the 12th Plan.  But the number of schools will hardly matter if we do not take care of other related needs. What we know is that SEN schools face teacher shortages and lack of training or specialised teachers to deal with the severe cases of disability. It has been found that most teachers with SEN programme do not have formal qualification in special education. Those that are there do not feel passionate about their job.

It is clear that the lack of one thing has led to the paucity of another. If we do not address these issues sooner, it will be difficult for SEN to find its foothold. And that will be a sad commentary on our education initiatives.

It has been found that SEN teachers have equal teaching periods like rest of the teachers in the education system, which does not allow them to provide intensive support and quality services to children. Class size and recreational facilities need improvement. There is a need for separate funds for SEN programmes. Without all these, development of SEN schools and programmes will be challenging.

Ultimately, the programmes should be able to create job opportunities for disabled children in the future through job-oriented educational skills. This will require regular and meaningful capacity building and professional development of the service providers. There is an urgent need to look at education in a broader perspective.

That more than 21 percent of Bhutanese children between two and nine years have disabilities is alarming. The proportion is significantly higher among the poor (26 percent).

We have support from the highest levels in addressing autism and neurological disorders. Measures are taken to remove stigma and promote social inclusiveness. But our efforts must not stop there. If we cannot include children with special needs in our education system, the success of our education will be questionable.

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