Education ministry has started a special education needs (SEN) programme in Damphu Lower Secondary School in Tsirang.

According to a recent disability prevalence report, Tsirang has the highest stage II disability at 33 percent in children between 2 and 9 years of age. What SEN programme promises is empowerment of persons with disability and ensures inclusiveness and equality.

Inclusive education is a process of valuing, accepting, supporting and ensuring that every child has an equal opportunity to learn. The fact that Bhutan is witnessing growth in the number of schools with SEN programme is indicative of development in our education system.

Because children with challenges specific to individual have different learning requirements and attention, our education demands individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment, materials, and accessible settings, among others. At the heart of the idea is to help individuals with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and in their community.

That more than 21 percent of Bhutanese children between two and nine years have disabilities is alarming. The proportion is significantly higher among the poor (26 percent).

We have 15 Special Education Needs (SEN) schools in the country today. The numbers might be impressive. What is important, however, is that if we do not take care of other related needs, little progress will have been made in making education accessible to all. Currently, SEN schools face teacher shortages and lack of training or specialised teachers to deal with the severe cases of disability. It has been found that most teachers with SEN programme do not have formal qualification in special education. Those that are there do not feel passionate about their job.

These are the areas that need special attention as we try to make education system more inclusive. It would be a waste of our efforts if we succeeded in establishing SEN programme in the many schools in the country but failed to address the needs of the special needs children.

We have support from the highest levels in addressing autism and neurological disorders. Measures are taken to remove stigma and promote social inclusiveness. More needs to be done, however. If we cannot include children with special needs in our education system, the success of our education will be questionable.