I will ensure that education access to the OKU is implemented radically and thoroughly nationwide, says Maszlee
THERE is a quite transformation taking place in the education space for the disabled persons. Moves are afoot to ensure that they get their fair share of the cake.
It is heartening to see steps being taken to bring about change at both public and private higher education institutions. More and more, the disabled persons are getting the attention they rightly deserve in efforts to ensure that no one gets left behind.
On the policy side, the government is ramping up efforts to ensure the disabled persons — commonly referred to as OKU for the Malay acronym for orang kurang upaya — get a better deal.
The latest fortification came with Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik (picture) releasing the Guidelines to Implement OKU Inclusion Policy in Institution of Higher Learning earlier this month.
“I will ensure that education access to the OKU is implemented radically and thoroughly nationwide,” he said when launching the 45-page document in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 5.
“At the same time, we are in the process of ensuring that the education for OKU becomes an important component in the 12th Malaysia Plan now under preparation. This is to ensure that educational institutions nationwide are OKU friendly as well as to ensure that OKU parents are no longer stressed and feel inhibited,” he said.
The newly released document is part of the wider OKU Inclusion Development Plan (2020-2025) which takes an overall and deeper look at the education path for individuals with special needs On the international front, Malaysia is a party to a number of international agreements and conventions.
In 1994, Malaysia implemented the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. Malaysia also signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) on April 8, 2008 and ratified it on July 19, 2010. Subsequent to that, Malaysia introduced the OKU Act in 2008.
In a nutshell, the OKU Inclusion in Higher Education Institutions Policy will be carried out and given priority at all higher education institutions to ensure facilities and continuous education support systems can be given to OKU students.
Among others, the guideline calls for the setting up of an OKU Services Unit that is separate from the Students Affairs Unit to cater specifically for OKU needs. The guidelines also address the barriers faced by OKU in higher education institutions, especially when it comes to attitude, infrastructure, access and system.
“We do not want cases where higher education institutions reject students who fulfil entry requirements merely on the count of them being OKU or lack of facilities. With the OKU Inclusive Policy at every higher education institution, there shall no longer exist unfair barriers to them. Education is for all, and it’s our collective responsibility,” he said.
The sentiment expressed is in line with the Education Ministry’s move to ensure no OKU gets left behind with its Zero Reject Policy introduced at the school level.
Under this policy, what parents merely need to do is to register their children at the ministry’s website two years before they begin primary schooling to secure a place at the school of their choice. The system will then facilitate a smooth transition into primary school for the differently-abled children and enable them to participate in the teaching and learning process.
Pupils with special needs will receive an education that corresponds with their abilities, either at national schools via the Inclusive Education Programme (PPI), the Special Education Integrated Programme (PPKI) or Special Education School (SPK) at primary and secondary levels.
Maszlee noted that for entry into public universities, special entry is given to certain categories of students, including OKU, athletes, Orang Asli and those from the B40 category.
Touching on the barriers faced, Maszlee pointed out among the infrastructure impediments include buildings that are not friendly to the disabled persons. They may not be equipped with special lanes and ramps, lifts and toilets that cannot accommodate those who are wheelchair bound.
Access barriers include reading and studying materials that are not in formats accessible to the disabled persons, usually involving those who have difficulties in sight, hearing and reading.
On the system side, Maszlee said the barriers include rules and regulations that are not favourable to the disabled persons. For example, the maximum graduation period requires accommodation as the disabled persons require more time to read, revise and research due to their unique challenges.
Maszlee said short-term, medium-term and long-term efforts are underway to ensure that the Zero Reject Policy is achieved latest within 10 years.
“In the meantime, reasonable accommodation has to be instituted to ensure OKU students, staff and people are able to study or work safely and in comfort, along with their other friends,” he said.
At this point, a number of public and private universities have implemented the policy including University of Malaya, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Universiti Sains Malaysia and University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.