The Ministry of Education (MoE) introduced inclusive schools in 20 dzongkhags and has made investments over the years for children with disabilities.
However, despite these, children with disabilities are amongst the most disadvantaged in terms of access to higher education.
As per the “Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAP) Study on Children with Disabilities,” report over 21 per cent of children aged 2 to 9 years have one or more disabilities. One of the challenges for Bhutan is to ensure that all children with special educational needs and disabilities receive appropriate education and social services.
The SEN coordinator and a SEN provider in Tendruk Central School, Tara Devi Giri shared her experience over the years. She said earlier students with disabilities used to get a 10 percent discount so that those students who scored around 51percent could go into grade XI. This was when there was a cut-off point. Once this cut-off point was done away everybody could continue their studies till grade XII.
After completing grade XII, there is no quota system for them so far.
She said very few children with disabilities can make it up to grade XII and after that they have nowhere to go. She shared that one of her students who has speech difficulties took many years to complete grade XII and by the time he completed grade XII, he was already 29 years old.
He even thought if the SEN division could provide him with a job. He has good leadership qualities and was a member of scouts for many years. However, currently he is a G4S security guard in one of the banks in Phuentsholing.
Similarly, there are few students with disabilities interested to go for higher studies, but they suffer due to a low marks percentage where they have to compete with everybody in merit ranking. Therefore, these students cannot get the opportunity to go for higher studies. It is important to remember that children do not only have physical disabilities, but learning difficulties too.
Tara Devi said that there should be a quota system by removing the merit system for students with disabilities that will help these children to pursue higher studies.
She said these children should be selected through their abilities otherwise these students will never make it to higher education except for those who are higher achievers, but there are not many.
There are children with intellectual disabilities and with a lot of hard work, they at least score 50 percent. These children have genuine interest in going for higher education. So, therefore, there should be a certain quota system from the government. Also while providing scholarship, it should not be in a merit wise ranking. She said in each institution there should be a quota system for children with disabilities.
There are many children with disabilities and many are from poor financial backgrounds and while there are institutes and NGOs for the children with disabilities, but most in the capital and parents cannot afford to send their children there.
“Such organizations for children with disabilities should be there in rural areas as well.” She said Samtse has the highest children with disabilities.
The students with disability who complete grade X and XII with much difficulty seek employment. Here the issue is not just of not having the opportunity to go for higher studies but there is no proper employment for them as well after their school education.
She said everybody should ask about the interest of the children. Till class XII, children with disabilities are provided with education but after grade XII there is nothing for them. Every year there are students with disabilities who complete grade XII with many difficulties only to be taken home by their parents and kept there as there is nothing after that.
“We have been talking about students who wish to go for higher studies. Last year I had a talk with some NGOs and Royal University of Bhutan for the scholarship. At the end it comes down to the same thing which is that they are looking into the marks scored by them where they need to fulfill the general criteria to get into the higher studies,” said Tara Devi.
She said the SEN division has to look into these issues and the education ministry should really look into it.
She said certain jobs can be provided by the schools or institutions, but this has to go through the RCSC and recruitment system. “The question is when are we going to empower these children with disabilities? And we talk about inclusion, but when are we going to include the children with disabilities?”
She said children with disabilities do not have opportunities.
“There are institutes in the capital and they say when children turn 14 years of age to send them to Draktsho Vocational Training but hardly any children have skills and they prefer those children with skills. There is nothing for those children with severe difficulties. For them there should be some kind of rehabilitation centers,” said Tara Devi.
Tara said children with disabilities are in desperate need for higher education. In Tendruk CS, two or three students pass out every year and so far no students had the opportunity to go for higher studies. They are genuinely interested in going for higher studies, but they cannot make it for the merit ranking.
Children with intellectual disabilities are being missed out. The new normal curriculum does not work for these groups of children because the curriculum has not addressed the needs of these children since they have different needs. The present curriculum focuses more on those students with learning difficulties.
The Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said naturally differently abled children must be supported and so the government must invest. The government has passed the disability policy and the priority is given to these children. The minister said there are students with disabilities who are pursuing higher studies or graduated from the university.
Meanwhile, there are 777 children in 18 schools with the SEN program and two special institutes as of 2020.