The Ministry of Education (MoE) has provided 46 smartphones to students with disabilities earlier this week. 25 smartphones to Muenselling Institute, 13 phones to Khaling Lower Secondary School and 8 to Jigme Sherubling Central School and tablets will be provided to rest 698 students with disability this June.
Last year, the ministry of education collected the data from 20 schools with inclusive and special education programs in order to provide smart phones and tablets. The ministry proposed for the supply of phones and tablets for 695 students which excluded X and XII students as the schools were partially re-opened then. However, when there was complete closure of schools due to series of lockdowns, the proposal to support even Class X and XII students was submitted to Helvetas which was later approved. Through these two projects, all 744 students with special educational needs will now receive either smartphone or tablet to enhance their learning.
Senior Program Officer of ECCD and SEN Division, Mr. Karma Norbu said the education ministry has planned to provide smartphones or tablets to 744 students according to their needs. For Muenselling Institute in Khaling, the ministry has provided smart phones since the students are totally blind or have low vision. For them smart phones with accessible software are more convenient as opposed to tablets which have large screen displays.
The ministry has also issued general guidelines for issuance of devices to ensure accountability, efficiency and sustainability of the device and its use which will be further disseminated to students through principals and IT teachers.
Smart phones and tablets were proposed during COVID-19 pandemic where schools had to shut down for many months and students with disabilities were adversely affected. Although the current situation is different and almost all the schools are re-opened, he reasoned that provision of such devices is still vital because schools have issues of equity where students with disabilities do not have same resources as for the general students. Irrespective of whether schools are closed or open, the device will benefit them to a greater extent. Special education teachers can install various apps and learning resources to educate children with disabilities using these devices.
About 12 million budget support was rendered by Save the Children under the project Global Partnership of Education’s (GPE) COVID-19 accelerated fund and 1.8 mn under Helvetas funding.
Chief Program Officer of ECCD and SEN Sherub Phuntshok said the current pandemic situation is very complex and no one knows when the schools will close again. So, in order to provide uninterrupted education for children with special educational needs, smart devices like this will help students a lot. It may not be as effective as face-to-face learning but still student’s disparity in educational access will be largely reduced
He said smartphones are not a luxury for them but it itself is an assistive technology to enhance their learning.
During this pandemic, children with disabilities are the hardest hit compared to general students. They are more vulnerable to physical, emotional and psychological threats as they would have low self-esteem and they will be worried so much about what others think of them during such difficult times.
According to literature, children with disabilities are mostly from the rural parts of the country and most of them are from the poor economic backgrounds. The chief said the government supports the Inclusive and Special Education Programmes but it is still inadequate to meet basic needs in the schools. Every year allocated budget has to be divided to 20 inclusive schools which is not enough.
Meanwhile, the total allocated budget for the year 2018-19 was Nu 13.607 mn, 2019-20 was 14.33 mn. In the year 2020, the average spending was Nu 5.86 million and for the year 2021-22 it is Nu 37.632 mn.