MoE also making other adaptations to help SEN students
The Ministry of Education (MoE) with support from Save the Children under the project Global Partnership for Education’s Covid-19 accelerated fund to support Bhutan’s educational sector will see 744 students with special needs getting free smart phones or tablets.
These special needs students are in 20 Schools which have the Special Educational Needs (SEN) program including 2 special institutes for children with hearing and visual impairment.
The students with special needs rely on classroom teachers or those who use learning aids and equipment which are not made available at home during school closures, and so are more likely to miss out on their learning and are particularly at risk of completely dropping out of school resulting in discontinuing their education with the prolonged closure of schools.
Children with special needs and disabilities are most at risk as they need assistive devices such as smart phones or tablets that is compatible for quality audio/visual systems. This will also ensure that children can meaningfully engaged with the assistive devices for maximum learning.
Students with visual impairments who rely on Braille and audio/speech-related products, will be provided with smart phones with good storage and there will be tablets for other students with disabilities.
With Education in Emergency (EIE) being delivered mostly using the online platforms, students with special needs without immediate educational support adapted to their needs find it doubly difficult to access online learning. To address such issues of educational access, provision of tablets for home based learning is proposed for pre-primary to class X students with special needs.
The education ministry will also provide data coverage for 3 months (Nu 399 data recharge per month) to these children along with the smartphones or tablets. Children with special needs and disabilities will need this support even when schools are open. As the schools with SEN programs are spread across the country, the support will cover both rural and urban settings.
Senior Programme Officer of ECCD and SEN Division, Mr. Karma Norbu mentioned that according to the literature, poverty is both the cause and consequence of disability and vice-versa. He stated that this vicious cycle of poverty and disability compounded by an emergency situation like COVID-19 makes students with disabilities totally left out from the mainstream educational system. Therefore, providing mobile data will not only serve as a complete package but also ensure educational accountability as students’ learning will be closely monitored and assessed by the teachers.
With the partial re-opening of schools in the country, students in grade X and XII are following prioritized curriculum, while students in other grades are following adapted curriculum from home. The ministry has also supplied Self-Instructional Material (SIM) for students in remote settings who are unable to follow online classes.
However, adapted curriculum and SIM designed for general students will not be fully accessible or appropriate for students with special needs as they are heavily reliant on SEN teachers or teacher assistants while in school. In line with the Royal Education Council’s (REC) Education in Emergency curriculum, the education ministry has started to collate existing EIE curricula and programmes for students with disabilities to ensure access to learning at home.
Karma Norbu said the ministry has received about Nu 12 million budget support from Save the Children to purchase smart gadgets and for the development of customized teaching learning materials (TLM) and others.
Since the students are still accessing online classes, the ministry will be providing phone or tablets as early as possible. And the reason for this is because most of the students did not have smart phones as per the survey conducted by the ministry. They are also provided with Self-Instructional Material wherever the students with disabilities are not able to cope up. Having special needs, they need additional support and specialized materials.
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