Education: To enhance education opportunities for children with special needs, the education ministry is in the process of identifying the thirteenth school in the country which will cater to the needs of children with disabilities.

The Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and Special Education Needs (SEN) division with the ministry has received information from the schools based on which a school will be identified.

The ministry will recognise 15 schools in the country to provide assistance to children with special needs by the end of the 11th Plan that is June 2018.

Chief programme officer with the ECCD and SEN division, Sherab Phuntshok, said that the identification of schools would be based on important factors like the environment of a school, number of students enrolled in the school and prevalence of children with special needs in the dzongkhag.

“It is important to study whether a school is conducive to become a SEN school,” Sherab Phuntshok added.

Schools across the country submit a report to the ministry that includes the number of students who have difficulty in learning enrolled in the schools every year. The ministry’s officials then visit the schools and based on the reports submitted, identify schools that require the SEN programme.

Programme officer with the division, Karma Norbu, said that the ultimate goal of a school with a SEN programme is to provide inclusive education to the students with special needs across the country.

“And it is not the responsibility of the ministry alone,” he added.“We would prefer all the schools, that is more than 500 in the country to be inclusive schools so that every teacher will have the ability to support every child independent of their needs.”

Karma Norbu explained that inclusive education does not limit to provide education to children with disabilities. It includes all the support services and programmes that the ministry provides to marginal schools.

Besides the prevalence of children with special needs in the dzongkhag, another criteria in identifying a school for the SEN programme is location.

The distance of a health facility and road from the school, infrastructures like adequate buildings, hostels, and ramps, among others, are looked into before the SEN programme is introduced.

The human resource capacity of a school, whether the teachers in a particular school have undergone a pre-service or in-service training on special and inclusive education, is another factor that is considered when identifying a school.

The capacity of the teachers to teach children with special needs, lack of basic infrastructures like ramps, toilets and separate classrooms for children with special needs are some of the challenges faced when identifying a school for special needs.

“Not many teachers have formal qualification on special education and on how to teach children with disabilities,” Karma Norbu said. “However, we have many experienced teachers who are doing a good job.”

To build a teacher’s capacity and provide teaching and learning materials and resources to enable children with disabilities to succeed in the classroom, the ministry provides trainings and workshops to the teachers of the 12 identified schools every year.

A volunteer from Australia is in the process of reviewing and improving the teacher-training programme.

Karma Norbu pointed out that providing quality education goes beyond providing access to education and basic education facilities. It is about meeting individuals with disability needs, intervention and support.

The ministry will provide facilities like wash and play facilities for special needs in some of the identified schools. The ministry is also in the process of developing standards for inclusive schools, which will be later used as guidelines to identify and operate schools with SEN programmes.

Those who wish to enroll their children who require special needs in the country can talk to officials of the school in the dzongkhag or to the ministry.

Meanwhile, the Gross National Happiness Commission is formulating a national policy for persons with disabilities.

Dechen Tshomo