In Mongar, three mothers have gone out of their way to help Mongar Lower Secondary School.

They help teachers teach the students in lower classes with special education needs (SEN). They are known as parent volunteers (PVs).

The three volunteers, all in their early thirties, give individual care and guidance to the differently-abled students, help classroom management, escort SEN students to their classes and toilets, and carry out pre-vocational classes.

There are 47 SEN students; 20 are girls. Most of them are in the lower classes.

The school’s principal, Kinley Dorji, said the three volunteers have been helping the school since the beginning of the year.

“They really brought up the SEN students. Such practices should spread across the country,” he said.

Wangdi Dorji, a Dzongkha teacher, said that teachers had difficult time teaching SEN students.

“We can’t give adequate attention to these students as there are many students in the classes,” Wangdi Dorji said. “The parent volunteers help the students to do class and home works on time.”

The school’s SEN assistant coordinator, Yeshey Choeki, said the programme is a platform for the parents to raise their concerns and leaderships.

Education ministry, UNICEF, Bhutan Foundation, and Bhutan-Canada Foundation have been helping the school with the resources and training.

“But the school needs more,” a teacher said.

One of the main challenges facing the school has been poor awareness of SEN services in the community and lack of policy.

“These challenges limit us from carrying out some of the activities that could make a difference in making education accessible to these students,” Yeshey Choki said. “We have large classes with just one teacher. Small class size and teacher-aides are needed to make teaching-learning effective.”

The challenges facing the SEN students, a teacher said, were infrastructure, curriculum, and higher education opportunities, among others.

Yeshey Choeki said that teachers need training and exposure to improve their expertise to provide support to the individual needs of SEN students.

One of the PVs, Sangay Pemo, completed Class XII in the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies, Simtokha in 2004. She said working as a PV gives her satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. “I feel proud to help the students and school.”

Sangay Pemo acts as an aide teacher for Class I and III students.

Sungchoe Lham, a non-formal education instructor, assists class PP and I teachers. She said, “I’ve decided to be a part of this programme and be more useful.”

Another mother, Deki Zangmo, has 15 classes in a week. She helps the class teachers of class I and III teach Mathematics and English.

“I see a lot of improvement in the students. They can now write and catch up with their teacher,” Deki Zangmo said. “It makes me happy.”

Tashi Phuntsho |  Mongar