Also launches an 18 month PGDE course in Dzongkha

Staff Reporter

To equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to teach children with disabilities in both mainstream and specialised schools, the Paro College of Education launched a Masters in Inclusive Education course on February 20.

The first batch of 21 trainees, who are enrolled in the course are in-service teachers from schools with Special Education Needs (SEN) programme, a joint press release from the College, Royal University of Bhutan and UNICEF states. The Ministry of Education relieved them to study full time for two years and the Ministry of Finance is supporting the residential programme.

Work to start a two year masters programme on inclusive education began in 2013 following a needs analysis with support from UNICEF. The needs analysis found more than 80 per cent of teachers expressing a need for a post-graduate or a masters programme to train teachers for children with special needs.

“According to records with the Ministry of Education, less than 15 teachers in the country today have a degree in special education,” the press release states. “Most of those who are teaching in schools with SEN programme have received some short trainings and workshops on special education.”

UNICEF supported the Paro College of Education to start a full professional course to train teachers in inclusive education. UNICEF supported the course development by sending five faculty members to Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who on their return developed a course contextualizing the country’s needs and informed by international best practices.

The course was reviewed by UNICEF and validated by the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB).

“I would like to put on record our thanks and appreciation to the Ministry of Education, UNICEF Bhutan and all other stakeholders for their support and cooperation,” RUB’s Vice Chancellor Nidup Dorji said at the launch. “Without their full support, we would not be in a position to bring about the changes that are needed.”

While Bhutan has made impressive progress in school enrollment and efforts are on to make schools more inclusive, at least 2-3 percent of children who are not yet enrolled in school are suspected to be those with disabilities.

The country today has 18 schools with SEN programme where children with other forms of disability are enrolled in regular or general schools with SEN programme.

President of the Paro College of Education, Dorji Thinley (PhD) said the launch of the 2-year MEd programme in inclusive education is a special achievement for RUB, the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, civil society organisation and other stakeholders who have supported the programme all along.

 “Against the backdrop of this fast evolving domestic and global phenomenon, Paro College of Education, Royal University of Bhutan, finds itself critically positioned to provide high quality education, training and research in special education,” he said.

Given the cross sectoral nature of disability, the Masters programme in Inclusive Education has brought together the Gross National Happiness Commission, the Ministry of Education, Royal University of Bhutan and UNICEF.

UNICEF Representative Dr Will Parks congratulated the government and said UNICEF is proud to be a part of this important achievement. “The right to education of children with disabilities can only be fulfilled by delivering a high quality, rigorous programme on inclusive education, such as the one that Paro College has embarked on today,” Dr Will Parks said. “Children with disabilities deserve no less than their peers without disabilities in mainstream schools.”

Bhutan endorsed the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities in on December 3, 2019. 

Education Secretary Karma Yeshey, the chief guest, said the Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers requires teachers to manage children with diverse needs. In other countries,  he said, that teachers have to first complete general teacher training and then undergo another special education training to teach children with disabilities.

The Masters Programme in Inclusive Education was launched along with the revamped eighteen months Postgraduate Diploma in Education in Dzongkha course at the Paro College of Education.