2 to 3 percent of children who are not yet enrolled in school are suspected to be those with disabilities
Paro College of Education on 20th February launched a Masters in Inclusive Education course to equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to teach children with disabilities in both mainstream and specialized schools.
The first batch of 21 trainees, who are enrolled in the course are in-service teachers from schools with Special Education Needs (SEN) programme. The Ministry of Education relieved them to study full time for two years and the Ministry of Finance is supporting the residential programme.
Work to start a two year masters programme on inclusive education began in 2013 following a needs analysis with support from UNICEF. The needs analysis found more than 80 per cent of teachers expressing a need for a post graduate or a masters programme to train teachers for children with special needs. According to records with the Ministry of Education, less than 15 teachers in the country today have a degree in special education. Most of those who are teaching in schools with SEN programme have received some short trainings and workshops on special education.
UNICEF, which has been advocating for inclusive education and supporting the expansion of schools with SEN programme supported the Paro College of Education to start a full professional course to train teachers in inclusive education. UNICEF supported the course development by sending five faculty members to Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who on their return developed a course contextualizing the country’s needs and informed by international best practices.
The course was reviewed by UNICEF and validated by the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB).
“I would like to put on record our thanks and appreciation to the Ministry of Education, UNICEF Bhutan and all other stakeholders for their support and cooperation,” RUB’s Vice Chancellor Nidup Dorji said at the launch. “Without their full support, we would not be in a position to bring about the changes that are needed.”
Bhutan has made impressive progress in school enrollment and efforts are on to make schools more inclusive. However, at least 2-3 per cent of children who are not yet enrolled in school are suspected to be those with disabilities.
The government established a separate specialized school for the education of children with blindness and low vision in Muenselling, Khaling, Trashigang in 1973 and a School for the education of Deaf at Wangsel, Paro in 2003. The country today has 18 schools with SEN programme where children with other forms of disability are enrolled in regular or general schools with SEN programme.
President of the Paro College of Education, Dorji Thinley (PhD) said the launch of the 2-year M.Ed programme in inclusive education is a special achievement for RUB, the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, civil society organization and other stakeholders who have supported the programme all along.
“Against the backdrop of this fast evolving domestic and global phenomenon, Paro College of Education, Royal University of Bhutan, finds itself critically positioned to provide high quality education, training and research in special education,” he said.
Given the cross sectoral nature of disability, the Masters programme in Inclusive Education has brought together the Gross National Happiness Commission, the Ministry of Education, Royal University of Bhutan and UNICEF.
UNICEF Representative Dr Will Parks congratulated the Royal Government of Bhutan and said UNICEF is proud to be a part of this important achievement. With few countries in the region offering similar courses in South Asia, he said the Paro College of Education could also attract teachers and students from the region in the future, thereby contributing to South- South cooperation.
“The right to education of children with disabilities can only be fulfilled by delivering a high quality, rigorous programme on inclusive education, such as the one that Paro College has embarked on today,” Dr Will Parks said. “Children with disabilities deserve no less than their peers without disabilities in mainstream schools.”
Bhutan endorsed the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities in on December 3, 2019. Article 24 of the United Nations Convention for Rights of Persons with Disabilities outlines right to education as an inherent right of children with disabilities to access and participate in education.
Education Secretary Karma Yeshey, the chief guest, said the Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers requires teachers to manage children with diverse needs. In other countries, he said, that teachers have to first complete general teacher training and then undergo another special education training to teach children with disabilities.
The Masters Programme in Inclusive Education Course was launched along with the revamped eighteen months Postgraduate Diploma in Education in Dzongkha course at the Paro College of Education.
Secretary of Dzongkha Development Commission, Director General of Royal Education Council, Director General of the Department of Youth and Sports, Director General of Department of School of MoE, Dzongdag and Dzongrab of Paro Dzongkhag administration, Heads of the Schools of Paro Valley and executives of non-governmental organizations attended the launch.