KUALA LUMPUR: Equipping mainstream teachers with the skills to identify students with special needs will not only allow schools to handle them better but will also boost the government’s inclusive education programme, according to educators.
The Education Ministry’s inclusive education programme aims at integrating children with learning disabilities into mainstream schools by placing them in regular classes with the normal students.
The ministry also has a special education integrated programme, which provides special classes for such students in mainstream schools.
Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) Deputy Vice Chancellor (Student Affairs and Alumni) Asso Prof Datuk Dr Junaidy Abu Bakar said the move would also help to overcome the current shortage of teachers with expertise to teach special students at regular schools.
Children who are hyperactive and autistic or have visual, hearing and speech impairments, as well as learning disabilities, are categorised as special students.
“Some (mainstream) schools have special students but there are not enough qualified teachers to teach them. At most, there may be one or two teachers who are able to supervise such students,” Junaidy told Bernama.
COMPULSORY COURSE IN INCLUSIVE EDUCATION
On Feb 24, Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan had said that mainstream teachers would be provided with special educational training and skills to enable them to identify students with special needs.
“Not all teachers can understand students who need attention… there are teachers at mainstream schools who understand (the needs of special students) but don’t have specific know-how.
“Therefore, the ministry will train teachers to ensure special education students will also get the same educational opportunities as students at regular schools,” he said.
Junaidy said UPSI was doing its part to help the government to make the inclusive education programme more successful by making it compulsory for all its trainee teachers taking the bachelor’s degree in education programme to take a course in inclusive education for two semesters. This ruling was implemented in September last year.
“The (inclusive education) course is aimed at exposing all our trainee teachers to some basic skills in handling students with special needs,” he said.
He also said that so far 10,300 teachers, who had received their bachelor’s degree in education under UPSI’s distance learning programme, have taken the inclusive education course.
Junaidy also pointed out to UPSI Faculty of Education and Human Development’s special education programme curriculum which, he said, integrated both educational and medical elements to make special education teachers more adept at handling their students.
“Before we reviewed the curriculum in 2014, the programme only consisted of educational elements but after the review, we included medical and allied health sciences elements into it as well. So, 70 per cent of the present special education curriculum comprises education and 30 per cent, medical and allied health sciences to improve the skills of our trainees.
“Our trainees are also subject to training in, among others, speech therapy, occupational therapy and audiology, for which we have therapy labs,” he said.
Special education teacher Siti Aishah Mohd Salim, 30, welcomed the government’s move to provide mainsteam teachers with training in special education, saying that it would enable them to identify children with disabilities at an early stage and help them to focus on their strengths and talent.
“Some special needs children are highly talented and if given the right guidance, they will have the motivation to succeed.
“They need a lot of guidance from their teachers and support from their parents in order for them to develop a winning spirit and have faith in their own abilities,” said Siti Aishah, who teaches at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Teriang Hilir in Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan, which is a regular school equipped with the special education integrated programme (PPKI).
Referring to Selayang Community College special education students, Yap Hee Heng and Muhamad Safiuddin Rosli who would be representing Malaysia at the International Abilympics in Bordeaux, France next month, she said the two were proof that people with disabilities could also excel in whatever they chose to do.
Yap, 21, and Muhamad Safiuddin, 23, who are deaf and mute, will compete with participants from 55 countries to prepare and serve French cuisine in the competition from March 23 to 27.
“As a special education teacher, I’m inspired by their achievement and I’m now more determined than ever to help my special students to become more successful.
“In my own experience helping my students to prepare for the national-level PPKI athletics meet, I’ve noticed a great deal of talent and abilities in these children with special needs,” she said.
On the challenges she faced as a special education teacher, Siti Aishah said a new syllabus should be drawn up for secondary school special needs students as, currently, the same syllabus was used at both primary and secondary levels.
“The primary-level syllabus is beneath the competence of the secondary school students who should, by right, be focusing on vocational skills. The existing syllabus is only suitable for primary school pupils,” she said.
She said the PPKI teachers were also burdened with clerical work, which took up much of their time and prevented them from discharging their duties effectively.
Nurhayati Zainudin, who has been a special education teacher for more than a decade, said the lack of special education-related training programmes and workshops and teaching aids was among the challenges she faced in her job.
“The number of (special needs) students in each class should also be made smaller to enable all of them to get their teacher’s full attention. Each class will have students with different kinds of cognitive disabilities and behavioural problems, and different methods will have to be employed to teach them,” said Nurhayati, who teaches at Sekolah Kebangsaan (Felda) Bandar Baru Serting in Jempol, Negeri Sembilan.
She also said that providing regular teachers training in special education was a good move as it would enable the teaching staff to pool their expertise to identify students with cognitive and physical learning disabilities. It would also make mainstream teachers more “disabled-friendly”, she added.
She said it would also be easier for schools to carry out their special education related activities effectively if all their teachers possessed the skills to handle students with special needs.
“This way, all the students, teachers, workers and administrators in the school will learn to accept people with special needs and understand their characteristics,” she said.
Nurhayati also noted that special education was no longer being regarded as inferior as society now has a more positive perception of people with special needs.
“There are so many centres now catering to people with disabilities, one of them being Permata Kurnia (which provides special education for autistic children). The government is also sensitive to their needs and is now implementing more special education programmes in schools in response to requests from parents,” she said.
Nurhayati added that it was now time for skills institutes to offer opportunities to disabled students to hone whatever skill or talent they possess.