Schools that cater to Special Education Needs (SEN) programme are facing teacher shortages and lack of training or specialized teachers to deal with the severe cases of disability.

Thimphu Thromde’s chief education officer, Sangay Drukpa, said most teachers catering to SEN programme do not have formal qualification in special education and there is a lack of passionately driven teachers.

There are 14 SEN schools in the country today and education ministry plans to have one more in the 12th Plan.

Sangay Drukpa during a national conference on inclusive education, said teachers catering to SEN programme have equal teaching periods like rest of the teachers and are unable to provide intensive support and quality services.

Most of the schools, including SEN schools, have unfavourable classroom, class size, and lack of recreational facilities. Hiring professionals like physiotherapist and volunteer teachers is a challenge.

“There is a need to create awareness about inclusive education and SEN programme among stakeholders,” Sangay Drukpa said. “We also require separate funds for SEN programme if we’re to give special care to the students who need intensive support.”

The principal of Kamji Central School, Thinley, said teaching hours should be reduced for the SEN providers. “Many providers felt the need to create job opportunities for disabled children in the future to be self-reliant. There is a need for capacity building and professional development for (SEN) service providers.”

Wamrong’s deputy chief dungkhag education officer, Thinley, said since the ministry has plans to have one school with SEN programme, the dzongkhags and thromdes should propose budget for the programmes to support inclusive education.

Knowledge about disability, its causes and implications was found to be limited according to the recently launched Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAP) Study on children with disabilities.

UNICEF Bhutan’s deputy representative, Beate Dastel, said that more than 21 percent of Bhutanese children between 2 and 9 years have disabilities, with the proportion significantly higher among the poor (26 percent).

“Disability needs to addressed through a more convergent, cross-sectoral approach involving person with disabilities themselves,” she said. “Bhutan has taken advanced steps by incorporating the Washington Group of Questions on disability in its national housing and population census, which would give fresh data on disability prevalence.”

UNICEF’s strategic plan 2018-21, she said, has provision of inclusive education for children with disabilities, improved infrastructure, and assistive technology, training, and community awareness.

Yangchen C Rinzin | Paro