As per the Literacy Survey conducted by the Ministry of Education (MoE), there are 15,468 Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) aged above six years, and 4,111 PWDs are illiterate. Bhutan’s literacy rate for PWDs is 26.6 percent while for general it is 71. 4 percent. The literacy rate among males is 37.8 percent and 16.3 percent among females.
According to the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017, there 1,618 children with disabilities aged from 3 to 24 years. As of 2021, 754 children are enrolled in the schools and the two special institutions. There are only 46 percent of children who are in the school age from 3 to 4 years.
Research and Evaluation Division of Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Phuntsho Wangyel, said there is an estimation that 13.1 percent of the people with disabilities living are under the poverty line. As per the living standard survey findings, children aged between 6 to 16 years were not attending schools due to their disabilities. Majority of children with disabilities have dropped out of schools because of disabilities.
The Deputy Chief Programme Officer of SEN Division, Pema Chhogyel, said the MoE works towards the promotion of inclusive education and is trying to enhance enrolling and absorbing all the children with disabilities. To do this; all the stakeholders must come together to work on it.
Despite introducing inclusive schools in the country, the enrolment of children with disabilities in the educational institutions is still low. Pema Chhogyel said lack of awareness is one of the reasons. Most parents do not know whether their child will be accepted in the schools, and whether there are inclusive and SEN schools across the country. Another reason is the accessibility, he said schools are quite far away and most of the children with disabilities live in the rural parts of Bhutan.
MoE plans to have inclusive schools in every dzongkhags in the 12th Five-Year Plan. Currently, there are 23 inclusive schools and three more in Norbuling Central School in Sarpang, Gomdhar Central School in Samdrup Jongkhar and Samdrup Jongkhar Primary School will be inaugurated this month. There will be a total of 26 inclusive schools in the country.
A parent with a child with disability raised concerns that upon turning 18 years old the child with disability has to leave schools or transit to a vocational institution. There are children with disabilities that are enrolled in the schools at a much later age.
Pema Chhogyel said transition is one of the important programs that impact the children’s lives. In all parts of the world, the decision-making level is at the age of 18 years. However, MoE is facilitating all the children who have turned 18 and still have not completed their middle secondary school, in a case wise manner. If they are not able to cope with the curriculum, they are provided with flexi time. Citing as an example, a child with disability can complete class X in two or three years, and also make choices in learning and take more time. The schools will adjust and they are provided more learning opportunities and also groom with skills, and slowly work towards transition.
Furthermore, MoE is trying to integrate with the technical institutions to provide vocational support. Currently, there are a few students undergoing training in Rangjung Technical Training Institutes. MoE is also trying to build some understanding between the labour ministry and TTIs as to how they can enhance enrolment.
Meanwhile, the Ability Bhutan Society organized a National Disability Conference on 1-2 December where all the relevant stakeholders shared the pertaining issues of disability, challenges and findings. The conference is part of the on-going project “Social Inclusive Development for People with Disabilities in Bhutan” in five dzongkhags in Bhutan. ABS is in collaboration with Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany and German Leprosy and TB Relief Association, Germany has started the pilot project in December 2018.
The aim for the project is to identify the situation and number of people with disabilities in 5 dzongkhags, and to promote social inclusion at all levels in accordance to WHO CBR matrix – Health, Education, Livelihood, Social and Empowerment.