Inclusive education: Disconnect between policy and reality — National Early Childhood Intervention Council

JANUARY 3 — This is an open letter to the minister and ministry of Education.

Inclusive education of children with disabilities is accepted internationally as a standard and right for all children. While Malaysia appears to subscribe to this opinion in principle, the reality on the ground appears to be challenging and many parents and children face difficulties obtaining full inclusion. The National Education Blueprint spells out that inclusion is the expected norm for any child with disabilities and has set a target of 75 per cent by 2023.

Parents, professionals and NGOs from various national family support groups conducted a survey of parents in Malaysia, in October 2018, to share their inclusive education experiences for children with special needs attending primary school. The survey was aimed at capturing recent positive or negative experiences with both Ministry of Education (MOE) schools as well as private, international and home schools. We targeted parents who have attempted inclusive education into primary school in the past 3 years (whether successful or not).

406 parents who have children with disabilities and had attempted inclusion recently responded to the survey from every state, all over the country. 70 per cent of the parents with special needs children who responded had attempted inclusion in MOE schools; the remainder tried private (14 per cent), international (10 per cent) or home school (6 per cent). Parents who attempted inclusion reported that 52 per cent (range 48 to 72 per cent) of all type of schools were supportive. However MOE schools were significantly less supportive (48 per cent) than other types of schools. Sadly, of those who attempted inclusion for their special needs children, only 41 per cent were successfully included. Another 20 per cent had partial success. Successful inclusion rates were highest for international (58 per cent) and private schools (43 per cent) rather than MOE schools (38 per cent).

The major obstacle to inclusion is an education system that is not supportive; especially its personnel. So much so that children with disabilities (and their parents) are made to appear as the problem and said to be “not being able to adapt to inclusion”. A typical comment from parents was “The teacher’s attitude towards my son was very disappointing and very negative. In the 1st semester, my son with a disability was number 16 out of 40 in class examinations and he scored in a few subjects but teachers still did not accept him”.

The continued denial of allowing shadow aides, victimising children who have disability registration (OKU card) and the opposition from parents of children without disabilities is disheartening.

When many of us speak to national policy makers they assure us that MOE is committed to the National Education Blueprint and inclusion targets. But the reality faced on the ground is disheartening. Parents have to work very hard to accommodate teachers and “bend backwards” to fight for their children to be included even when this is already national policy.

The full results and detailed findings of the study are available form the NECIC website:

We hope that this feedback to MOE and the public about the current status of inclusive readiness of schools will assist agencies, schools and the community to promote inclusion in a greater way.

Our group offer some key recommendations that will enable inclusion to be better enabled in all our schools. These include:

1. To enable inclusive education it is important to transform the Special Education Unit (Unit Pendidikan Khas) to the Inclusive Education Unit (Unit Pendidikan Inclusive). This will change the entire focus of educating children with special needs in MOE from one of segregation classes (pendidikan khas) to inclusion in mainstream. The resource of special education teachers must be deployed to mainstream classes to support children and teachers.

2. Implement a national shadow aide programme not just in name but in reality. We urgently require a shadow aide programme to support teachers. MOE has not put this vital resource in place and parents who try to make available the provision are often hindered by local authorities. This is an immediate measure while we work to getting sufficient numbers of well-trained teachers and resource personnel to aid and educate children with special needs in mainstream education classes.

3. Under enrollment mainstream schools should be considered as an option to implement inclusive education. Currently 34 per cent of Malaysian primary schools have fewer than 150 students and are classified as under enrolled schools. Differentiated instruction, peer-support and shadow aide for a meaningful inclusion is more feasible to implement under the current education system in under enrolment schools because of low student-teacher ratio.

While we have made some small strides in inclusive education, in reality the education system continues to place obstacles in the path of children with disabilities and their families. There is a need for the national and private education systems in Malaysia to grow-up and join the developed world in providing meaningful opportunities for children with disabilities to be included in mainstream education. Inclusion is not about success but about acceptance. Please accept all our children in mainstream education.

Thank you.

Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS#

Alvin Teoh*

Shyielathy Arumugam*

Sarini Bujang*

Edmund Lim*

Ng Lai Thin#

#National Early Childhood Intervention Council, Malaysia

*Parents of children with disabilities

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.