Don’t sweep special needs education under the rug

An expert urges teachers for students with special needs to be innovative, which includes creating lessons that are small and micro

by AZALEA AZUAR / Pic by BERNAMA

WITH the third Movement Control Order (MCO 3.0) in place nationwide, it is back to the home-based teaching and learning, or PdPR, sessions for teachers and students.

Online learning does have its benefits and disadvantages such as saving on travelling time and lunch allowances. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge for some teachers to control and monitor their students. It is indeed challenging to manage students for e-learning, what more students with special needs.

Malaysians from all industries, starting from schools, must collectively think of being innovative, says Logendra (Pic Source: Taylor’s University)

Taylor’s University’s School of Education head Dr Logendra Stanley Ponniah, a big supporter of e-learning, said Malaysia is not prepared for it.

When the Covid-19 pandemic took over the world, we were forced to speed up digitalisation although we were yet to have the important infrastructures for e-learning.

“The problem is, e-learning is not working out now because we had not planned to use it. So, all the necessary infrastructure, the training for the students, parents and teachers, were not done prior to the initial MCO.

“Therefore, we were just rushed and asked to do all kinds of activities without having a full understanding of how best to use e-learning,” he explained.

He also said many students learn various skills through YouTube videos and interactive mobile apps as contents on those platforms are more interesting, attractive and entertaining.

Instead of complaining about the current limitations of e-learning, Logendra urged teachers for students with special needs to be innovative with their lessons, which includes creating lessons that are small and micro.

“So, let’s assume children with autism only have seven or five minutes of attention span. Instead of thinking about how we can teach them for 40 minutes, we should think about how we can maximise our teaching time in just five minutes,” he said.

Limitations

There are several limitations when it comes to special needs education, particularly public awareness and diagnostic training.

Logendra said the first limitation is the lack of public awareness regarding the diverse spectrum of learning disability, whether it is neurological, physiological or developmental.

When it comes to diagnostic training, he said sadly, it is more accessible for special needs students with well-to-do parents, normally in private and international schools.

“So, how much training have we provided to typical primary school teachers, so that they are able to capture and diagnose students within their classroom setting?

“These structural efforts can be done to improve the state of special education, at least at the diagnostic level,” said Logendra.

Although the government has been doing plenty to improve special needs education, it still requires a dedicated facility and curriculum.

Education is tougher for those coming from rural areas where it is a challenge to find a classroom for students with special needs.

Hiring Staff with Special Needs?

The government has introduced a policy in the public sector where 1% of its staff must be a person with disability (OKU) to address the issue of unemployment among them.

Logendra believes that unfortunately, this policy is difficult to execute although companies do look out for staff with special needs.

The problem is, he said, not many companies have the infrastructure to accommodate special needs staff with different disabilities.

“Every company has the infrastructure for wheelchairs because it is one of the most obvious facilities to provide. However, how many companies provide Braille, or cater to the hearing impaired?” he said, adding that the government’s policy only covers a limited spectrum of disability.

Logendra gave an example of blind people who are given only a few employment options, such as a telephone operator, masseuse or busker.

“So, where is the responsibility of creative people coming together and thinking of new industries that these people can venture in?

“Malaysians from all industries, starting from schools, must collectively think of being innovative, where they find new ways of providing employment for different disabilities,” he said.

Logendra admitted that there is no fixed plan for this and associations handling these different disabilities have been overwhelmed by social and political missions while trying to raise more funds.

“There is no systematic way to harness and cultivate jobs for OKUs in all the different disciplines.

“For example, in a recent workshop, we talked about autism which attracts a lot of attention because they look normal. People expect them to be normal, but in reality, they have difficulties. So, there is no systematic organisation that works the other way round,” he said.

A Step Forward

With Malaysians progressing towards special needs education awareness, many of our local universities have been equipped with infrastructure that would assist special needs students in their learning process.

For example, Taylor’s University’s courses are recorded, so that students with learning disabilities can replay the lessons if they struggle to catch up.

“This is a small step towards a big problem. We recently invested in a technology that not only records, but also transcribes.

“So, if you have a hearing issue, you can also read the lecture because it will be auto-transcribed,” said Logendra.

Proper Plan for OKUs

Parents with disabled children, especially of the highest spectrum, fear for the future as their children would require 24-hour care for the rest of their lives.

“When you have a disabled child, the entire family is ‘disabled’, future plans and ambitions need to factor in the disabled member.

“Their siblings must plan to continue taking care of them long into their adult lives when their parents are no longer able to do so,” said Logendra.

Therefore, he hoped that in the next five years, experts from various fields would come together and discuss a multidisciplinary approach to form a plan that could help OKUs live independently.

“A systematic nationwide plan will enable us all to live up to our full potential, including the OKUs,” he said.

However, Logendra noted that developing a proper infrastructure for OKUs would require a lot of time and money, hence the need for a proper and conclusive plan.