Unicef study: ‘Inclusive education’ for children with disabilities only works on paper

Branden Lim and his father, Edmund Lim, of We Care Journey, at Petrosains, KLCC, on October 5, 2017. Branden’s team is the winner of the #ThisAbility Makeathon 2017. Branden’s team developed a gripping assistive device, which can hold a pen, paint brush or spoon, made of a combination of plastic, Velcro and screws. The product allows a person who has limited fine motor skills, strength and dexterity to hold objects without the need to grip them between their fingers. — Picture courtesy of Unicef
Branden Lim and his father, Edmund Lim, of We Care Journey, at Petrosains, KLCC, on October 5, 2017. Branden’s team is the winner of the #ThisAbility Makeathon 2017. Branden’s team developed a gripping assistive device, which can hold a pen, paint brush or spoon, made of a combination of plastic, Velcro and screws. The product allows a person who has limited fine motor skills, strength and dexterity to hold objects without the need to grip them between their fingers. — Picture courtesy of Unicef

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — In a Unicef study, teachers in mainstream education and special education teachers differed on whether children with disabilities could be taught alongside those without.

The study by the United Nations agency titled “Childhood disability in Malaysia: A study of knowledge, attitudes and practices” reported teachers in mainstream education as saying that children with disabilities had to be taught in special classes or special schools.

However, special education teachers said if they had the capacity and capabilities, children with disabilities should be offered an opportunity to study in mainstream schools, highlighting the lack of classification about disability as an impediment to correctly placing children in schools.

“It was widely understood by service providers that inclusive education was a key component of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) programme to integrate children with disabilities into mainstream classes where children with disabilities learn, ‘side by side with other regularly developing children’.

“As teachers at a special school in Selangor concluded, however, ‘inclusive education is just a term that works on paper’, but without adequate monitoring systems and supportive supervision, ‘inclusive education is not working’,” said the study released recently.

Children with visual or hearing impairments reportedly had greater educational opportunities, but access to special schools in Sabah and Sarawak was very limited.

“In Sabah, for example, children with hearing impairments could attend a special school until Form 3 (age 15), but in order to attend senior secondary school (Forms 4 and 5), students had to apply to special schools in Penang and Johor that had limited places,” said the study.

“It was evident that the structure of the school system was discriminatory and set children with disabilities at a disadvantage.”

Caregivers and community-based organisation (CBO) representatives suggested that the key performance indicator (KPI) evaluation system prevented children with disabilities from being accepted in schools.

“The system evaluates on the basis of grades achieved by their students, and participants reported that teachers and headmasters denied students with disabilities the opportunity to sit public exams in order for schools to achieve the best performance indicators possible,” said the study.

A mother of a boy with physical disabilities in Sabah was quoted in the study as saying that the headmaster of a school near her house refused to accept her son.

“The headmaster said ‘All of my students are okay but your kid is like that, and we do not accept this kind of kid.’ I talked to the headmaster frankly because I wanted to know what he meant by ‘this kind of kid’. The headmaster did not want to talk with me, he opened the door and left.

“Then I went to another school and asked for a place for my son and they also said that they did not want to accept this kind of kid. So you have to look for a school that will accept them, then you go there. There was one more headmaster who asked me to go to the welfare department to ask what schools my son could attend,” she said.

A CBO representative in Selangor told the Unicef research that because of the KPIs for schools set by the government, teachers would want to segregate children with disabilities as they were perceived as bringing down the averages.

“They are not measured to be inclusive, they are measured on KPIs which discourage disability. So that’s going to be a challenge to change.” 

Majority of teachers in the Unicef study highlighted their lack of training in teaching children with disabilities, though teachers in mainstream education claimed that the MOE training for special education teachers was sufficient.

The Unicef study ran from January 2016 to September 2016, comprising a quantitative knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) survey among the general public and those with and without experience of children with disabilities, as well as qualitative methods like in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with key informants and stakeholders, and workshops for children and adolescents.

Data collection was conducted in Selangor, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak. Eighty KAP surveys were administered in each of the four states with a total of 320 respondents. 

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