As usual, a small community of supporters and parents of children with autism marked the International Day of Autism in Thimphu this week.

Special education needs is essential for any country to provide a fair and inclusive education system to all its students. Given our clear development vision, it is important that our education system continues to reflect our national priorities and traditional values balanced with the internationally accepted concepts of education that have been honed over the centuries. This has become particularly important as we go through rapid change.

The major reforms taking place in the education system would not be complete if they do not include special education needs. Our system is guided by the GNH philosophy, which emphasises the importance of holistic development and well-being. To live up to this philosophy, we need to ensure that all our students have equal access to quality education, including children with SEN.

As of April 2020, there were 18 schools with SEN programme and two special institutes that enrolled 740 students with SEN. It’s obvious that the benefits of providing the necessary support and resources to children with SEN will have major impact on the overall development and progress of the nation.

SEN schools lack of resources and facilities. Many of our teachers and parents lack awareness, and SEN children  are challenged by societal stigma. In many cases, they are not identified at an early age, leading to delayed or inadequate support. This results in many students dropping out of school or struggling to learn and reach their potential.

One of the significant challenges in Bhutan’s special education needs is the lack of trained professionals. Currently, there are only a few trained special education teachers in the country, making it challenging to provide the necessary support to SEN children. Additionally, most of these teachers are concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural areas with limited access to specialised support.

We also need to improve the understanding of SEN among parents and teachers. Many parents often view their children’s disabilities as a curse and seek religious remedies, hindering their child’s access to appropriate care and education. Furthermore, teachers’ lack of knowledge and understanding of SEN makes it challenging for them to identify and support SEN children.

Social stigma also poses a significant challenge for SEN children in Bhutan. Many people view SEN children as a burden to society, leading to exclusion and discrimination. This stigma can cause mental health issues for SEN children, affecting their overall well-being.

Investing in training programmes for teachers to equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to support SEN children is an urgently felt. Funding for special education needs have to be adequate, especially in rural areas. We need to build on our awareness campaigns and outreach programmes to educate parents and communities on the importance of inclusive education and combat societal stigma.The government, education sector, and society need to work together to provide adequate resources to SEN children. 

To a large extent, parents play a vital role in nurturing these uniquely gifted young minds, but the education system and the communities have to acknowledge their needs too. He who said “It takes a village to raise a child”, said it right.