Department of School Education (DSE), Ministry of Education (MoE) has received support from Save the Children for buying smartphones for 104 students in Wangsel Institute in Paro and 25 students in Muenselling Institute in Khaling. But due to the current shortage of smartphones in the market, not all the students will get the smartphones.
DSE was also successful in getting audiovisual books, indoor games, hand sanitizer and facemasks to the children in Special Education Needs (SEN) program schools from Japan International Cooperation Association (JICA) through the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC).
Chief Program Officer of SEN, Sherub Phuntshok, said children with disabilities are the hardest hit during the pandemic as they are the most vulnerable in the society. As a result, the ministry needs to recognize and support them.
Once the children get the smartphones, they will be engaged in their learning and the magnitude of the challenges will be reduced, he added.
DSE has also proposed for the need of smartphones in 18 SEN program schools across Bhutan to UNICEF. There are 740 children with disabilities in the 18 SEN schools including 2 special institutes. There are 437 males and 304 females students with disabilities in the country.
As per the survey information collected from the SEN program schools across the country, teachers and the SEN coordinator (SENCO) informed MoE that providing the smartphones to students to learn is the best option for at this juncture.
SEN program schools across the country follow the general school curriculum, but the delivery mode is modified and adaptive as per the need of the differently abled children. The teachers also incorporate the special needs approach in their Individual Education Plan (IEP) so that the educational needs of the children are met. WeChat, WhatApps, Telegram and Google Classroom are the various social media communication platforms used to teach and learn in a meaningful way. Students also follow the lessons aired through BBS.
The children with severe disabilities enrolled in SEN program are taught through Activities of Daily Living (ADL) method. Students with visual impairment in Muenselling Institute follow the general school curriculum. DSE sends the audio file of the lessons aired in BBS along with the modification and adaptation of the lessons. The hearing impaired students in Wangsel Institute use sign language. The present sign language is enough for class 10 and 12. Sign language research and documentation is going on to make it simpler for the rest to follow.
DSE found that the visually impaired students are good at picking up vocational skills. Children with disabilities also use Self- Instructional materials (SIM).
Sherub Phuntshok said that in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and the ministry are not able to keep contact with children with disabilities. They are already faced with many difficulties and now there is a new challenge in learning during the pandemic. The reach of educational services to the children is very low.
“Most of the students do not have smartphones and they do not have access to education. Parents’ level of education is another challenge. If parents are educated then these children will get support along with the parents’ time. Nutrition for these children is another challenge. The reason is that all these children with disabilities are from a low-socio economic background. Education ministry is working so hard to provide them with education in different forms,” Sherub Phuntshok said.
MoE will be working on the modality for the teachers to at least go in the localities and support the children, and work on how ministry can educate the children in the best possible way.
Even though most teachers are not certified to teach the differently abled students, however, they are trying their best.
MoE has trained them on the education module and also inclusive education standard. From 2020 onwards, Masters in Inclusive Education has been initiated in Paro, said Sherub Phuntshok.