As part of the 12th Plan activity, the ministry of education started a special education needs (SEN) programme in Damphu lower secondary school in Tsirang yesterday.

The SEN programme is expected to empower persons with disability and ensure inclusiveness and equality.

Education officials say inclusive education is a process of valuing, accepting, supporting and ensuring that every child has an equal opportunity to learn.

They say Damphu LSS is now a school for inclusive and special education.

The dzongkhag’s chief education officer, Sangay Chophel, said the programme started in Damphu LSS since it is centrally located. “We’re making it easier for the community to avail the SEN service.”

He said that although students with special needs attend classes along with other students, teachers would pay more attention to them. “These students will also attend separate sessions in the ‘SEN room’ for special education.”

According to a recent report on disability prevalence, Tsirang has the highest stage II disability at 33 percent in children between 2-9years of age.

A random data collection by the education ministry also found at least 62 children with a disability attend schools in Tsirang. At least 13 of them are studying in Damphu LSS.

Sangay Chophel said that each school in Tsirang has at least five to six children with various types of disability, most of which is learning disability.

Tsirang is the second dzongkhag to begin SEN programme after Samtengang LSS in Wangdue in the 12th Plan. Including these two schools, there are 18 schools with SEN programme in the country today.

Within the 12th Plan, the ministry targets to begin SEN in at least another 10 schools, which will make a total of 28 schools with SEN programme across the country including the two schools of blind and deaf.

The chief of the ECCD and special education division, Sherab Phuntshok, said that one of the mandates of the education ministry is to provide support and service to students living with a disability.

He said health officials use a standard tool to assess disability in children, only after which the children are identified as disabled. “Our plan is to mainstream all these children living with disability in the general school system. We want to integrate and make the environment conducive for them.”

While such programmes are initiated in schools, teachers are not specialized to take up special education programmes.

Sherab Phuntshok said there are only a few trained and specialised teachers, other teachers in the school do not possess any certificate or qualification on SEN.

However, the chief said that the ministry is providing short-term training to teachers to take up SEN teaching. “As part of the training programmes, all 48 teachers of Damphu LSS will attend two-day orientation programme on SEN starting today.”

UNICEF financially and technically supports the programme.

Nirmala Pokhrel   | Tsirang