DEPUTY Education Minister Teo Nie Ching’s stand on the ministry’s “zero reject policy”, ie that no special needs child should be left out of mainstream schooling is a move in the right direction.
However, it needs to be pointed out that mainstream schools are sorely lacking in proper facilities and teachers who are trained, and even more importantly, experienced, in handling such children.
An autistic child in my neighbourhood was sent to a nearby home school which had experience in handling autistic children.
Physically the child was perfect. She was able to do what children of her age can do, like dressing, going to toilet, eating, joining in play with other children, albeit not as actively as the normal children.
She had a speech problem and was only making sounds like “aa...”. Her hearing was normal.
The teachers at the home school took a lot of pains to do speech exercises with her and by the end of about eight months she was beginning to make other sounds, like the Malay “suku-kata” sounds.
It was the end of the year already and her parents received a letter from the Education Department offering her a place in the “pendidikan khas” class (special needs education class) at a nearby national school.
The home school teachers knew that this “pendidikan khas” class was for Down’s syndrome children and advised the parents that it was not the right place for her as she should be with the normal children and not the Down’s syndrome children.
The mother, a teacher, and the father, a professional, felt the Education Department should know better and put the child in this “special needs” class, with expectation that she would improve.
Their expectations were shattered. Instead of making further improvement on the work of the home school, the girl’s condition deteriorated so much so that now, as a teenager, she is helpless and fully dependent on someone to care for her.
Though she can stand, she needs prodding to do so, and when up, she needs to hang onto someone to walk haltingly.
She is in a constant state of daze, oblivious of her surroundings, and has totally lost speech.
“Pendidikan khas” should never do this to any child. Here is one who was otherwise normal except for the speech problem, and the “special needs” class that she was put in ruined her life.
Please make sure there are properly trained teachers to handle special needs children and never put them all into one basket called “Kelas pendidikan khas” as their needs are not the same.
This child has now become a burden to her parents. Had she continued in the home school she would have been a different person, even if her speech did not become perfect.