More teachers and classrooms needed for effective Special Needs Eduction program nationwide

Special Education Needs (SEN) program is ineffective due to the lack of specialized teachers and almost no classrooms with special teaching-learning materials.

Principal of Kamji Middle Secondary School in Chukha, Pema Rinchen, said, “We have a teacher shortage, and we do not have specialized teachers to teach students with disabilities. Currently, the general teachers teach the students of SEN program as well as they take the general classes. We have one specialized teacher in special education along with five general teachers. And it is very difficult for the general teachers to manage with both special education classes and the general classes. So our learning process becomes ineffective.”

He said not having the specialized teachers to teach special students is one of the issues along with the inadequate teaching-learning materials. “Since the students with disabilities require special materials, we lack that as well,” said the Principal of  Kamji MSS. Appropriate infrastructure for the students with disabilities, such as ramps and adequate washrooms, are also missing.

“We have requested for a budget since these students require double than the general students. We feel there should be a separate budget for these students so that we can have the adequate materials required for them,” said the Principal.

Although the training and workshops are given to the teachers, it is still not enough. The school has a set of students with different difficulties where there is a need for specialized teachers according to their disabilities, said the principal.

He said that the last he heard was that the school division of the Ministry of Education was planning to issue a separate budget and look into the teacher shortage.

There are 40 students with mild and moderate disabilities (hearing, speech and learning difficulty) in the school.

Tara Devi of Tendruk Higher Secondary School in Samtse said there are 71 students with disabilities in the school with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disabilities, ADHD, Autism, physical disabilities, vision, speech and language difficulties. The school caters more for the students with learning disability.

Meanwhile, the school faces a lot of challenges in terms of teacher shortage, insufficient materials and classrooms. The students with physical difficulties need accessible toilets, she said, adding, “The toilets we have is quite far and it is difficult for those children with physical difficulties. There are environmental friendly ramps, but there is no good gradient maintained for the ramps. There is a much needed renovation for the ramps.”

The school has 65 teachers, but no specialized teachers allocated for SEN due to a shortage of teachers. The school has requested the relevant agency for send more teachers in the school.

She said, for now, the teachers hardly get the time to focus on the SEN students. She said it is quite expensive to have special education.

“We are also short of materials. Most of the students learn through visual aids, such as colours and drawings, but we cannot provide that except for the black and white prints. When we show them the real colours, they get confused. And some are very musical and they learn through music, but we do not have the budget to buy the musical instruments. So we teach with whatever materials we have in the school,” said Tara Dev who is an assistant SEN provider.

She said most of the students with disabilities are from poor financial background and from broken homes with a single parent. Some of the children have been abandoned due to their condition and raised by grandparents.

Tara said the support from parents is very weak. She said the same goes for the relevant agencies because they are not very much aware.

“The special education just came into the limelight recently so I believe everyone will look into this school very seriously with due importance,” said Tara Devi.

The school has gone out of its way to raise funds for the students with disabilities.

“It is actually an inclusive school, but the students with disabilities faced a lot of exclusion. However, we also have a lot of success story despite all the challenges. Many of our students with disabilities are improving,” said Tara Devi.

Vice Principal of Drukgyel Lower Secondary School in Paro, Pema Wangmo, said they have a total of 728 students with 35 teachers, and out of the total students, 34 students are in SEN program.

She said the main challenge is the teacher shortage and lack of infrastructure. She said there are not enough classrooms for the general students, and which is why the school cannot provide any proper classroom for SEN. However, one classroom was partitioned off to create a classroom for SEN.

There are 12 teachers working for special education as well as taking up general classes at the moment. These teacher have attended short courses and workshops relating to special education.

“Also, I have been sending my teachers to Thailand for training with self-fund. This is all my initiative, and this year also, I am sending 10 teachers to train in the special education,” said the Vice Principal.

“We do not have a separate budget for the SEN program, but sometime we do get a small amount from the ministry. Most of the time, we look for funds from the donors,” said the Vice Principal.

The school has students with mainly Autism, Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. There is an increase in the admission of students in SEN program, especially the severe cases, every year.

Yeshi Choki of Mongar Middle Secondary School said the common challenge that every school faces is that there is no proper infrastructure that is accessible by the students.

“When students with physical disabilities come, we do not have ramps and it has slopes which is why it seems it is very expensive for the government to build ramps,” said Yeshi Choki

There is a lack of classrooms because when it comes to catering the needs of those students then the class size has to be smaller so in that case we need more number of classrooms and teachers, she added.

Currently, the school makes do with temporary three classrooms for the SEN unit. “There are five teachers that cater the Pull Out classes for moderate to severe disabilities students. We provide them with intensive remediation classes. In Pull Out classes, there are students from classes 1 to 9, so with just three classrooms and it is very difficult to manage,” she said.

She said it is crucial to have adequate number of teachers to make SEN program effective. “Sometimes there’s too burden on some teachers because they have to take general classes as well,” she pointed out.

Meantime, the school is seeking donations to sustain the SEN program.

The other challenge is to lack of support from the community to accept children with disabilities. There are awareness program and orientation program given to the new teachers in the school in order to make them more aware about the disabilities and much needed support services, especially for new teachers with  no exposure to the SEN program.

“We have 56 students in SEN program, 35 boys and 21 girls with mild and moderate disabilities. Right now, none of us have had specialized training except for few days of workshop,” said Yeshi Choki.

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