After a series of coverage on the situation of inclusive and SEN schools in Bhutan in 2021, the paper found that there is a shortage of SEN trained teachers in all the schools. There is also no scope for students with disabilities to further their studies after finishing from the inclusive and SEN schools.
Although the Ministry of Education (MoE) has placed importance to children with disabilities in all the 20 inclusive schools, however, many parents and students with disabilities are apprehensive as many of them who have completed class XII, despite encountering many difficulties, land up nowhere, even though they aspire to go for higher studies.
Another issue in special education is that despite there being inclusive schools in the country, the enrollments of children with disabilities are still low. As per the Literacy Survey conducted by MoE, there are 15,468 Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) aged above six years, and 4,111 PWDs are illiterate. Bhutan’s literacy rate for PWDs is 26.6 percent, compared to the literacy rate for the general population at 71.4 percent. The literacy rate among males is 37.8 percent and 16.3 percent among females.
As per the living standard survey findings, children aged between 6 to 16 years were not attending schools due to their disabilities. Majority of children with disabilities have dropped out of schools due to their disabilities.
The Deputy Chief Programme Officer of SEN Division, Pema Chhogyel, said lack of awareness is one of the reasons for low enrollment of children with disabilities, as most parents, who are from poor economic background, are not aware of inclusive and SEN schools across the country. Another reason is poor accessibility to schools, as many of the children with disabilities live in the rural parts of Bhutan.
Another deep concern cutting across all parties is the few number of trained teachers in the inclusive and SEN schools. MoE found that not many teachers are coming forward as SEN teachers as they find the job difficult and they have to undergo lot of training to fulfill their job. The MoE Minister, JB Rai, said the ministry plans to propose for an allowance for SEN teachers.
In the meantime, MoE has already started a Masters program in Special Education in the Paro College of Education (PCE) to address the SEN teacher shortage. PCE is recruiting 20 teachers for the SEN program yearly.
At a time of COVID-19 pandemic, MoE ensured that no students with disabilities are left behind on their education progress. The ministry made sure that the children were given the first priority since 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 during such difficult times.
Chief Program Officer of ECCD and SEN Division, Sherub Phuntshok, said to due to the national lockdowns, conducting face-to-face teaching and learning did not happen, and as a result, the learning outcome for them was not as expected, and internet accessibility was a problem because children with special needs are also from the rural pockets, and most of them do not have smartphones.
Realizing that there were many children without smart gadgets, MoE collected data from 20 inclusive schools, and provided either smartphones or tablets to 744 students with special education needs to enhance their learning which was affected due to a series of lockdowns in the country.
MoE also introduced six additional inclusive schools in the country with the support from UNICEF after surveying for the feasibility, prevalence of disability, catchment areas, proximity to other schools, health facilities and scope for collaboration with other support professionals in the community, and also consultation with the local leaders, parents and the many dzongkhag and thromde authorities.
Meanwhile, the total allocated budget SEN program for the year 2018-19 was Nu 13.607 million (mn), 2019-20 was Nu14.33 mn. In the year 2020, the average spending was Nu 5.86 million, while the budget allocated for the year 2021-22 was Nu 37.632 mn.