A MORE IN­CLU­SIVE SYS­TEM BY 2050

Far too many young peo­ple strug­gle to reach their full po­ten­tial be­cause they are treated as ‘sec­ond-class’ stu­dents

New Straits Times - - Opinion - Raja Sa­rina is a free­lance writer, a blog­ger at www.dearsa­rina.com and is cur­rently study­ing Ara­bic. She is a mil­lenial try­ing to make a dif­fer­ence, start­ing with her­self

IN light of the dis­cus­sions on the 2050 Na­tional Trans­for­ma­tion (TN50), I was caught off guard when a friend asked me what I had en­vi­sioned for Malaysia by 2050. What a loaded ques­tion, I thought.

In case you don’t al­ready know, TN50 is a new “vi­sion” for Malaysia which seeks to trans­form the coun­try’s econ­omy, cit­i­zen well­be­ing, en­vi­ron­ment, tech­nol­ogy, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, gover­nance and pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion.

I vet­ted through ev­ery plat­form on the In­ter­net to see what other peo­ple’s vi­sions for Malaysia by 2050 were.

One lady was keen on see­ing Malaysia es­tab­lish a strong read­ing cul­ture, while one gen­tle­man said he wanted Malaysians to sus­tain, if not fur­ther strengthen, the bonds we have with each other de­spite our dif­fer­ences.

My voice cer­tainly isn’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the en­tire Malaysian youth, this I know, but one thing re­mains undis­putable: ev­ery young Malaysian wants a bright fu­ture for them­selves and their coun­try.

So, what do I want for Malaysia by 2050? I want a Malaysia where stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties or men­tal ill­ness can re­ceive the sup­port they need from their schools so that their aca­demic progress is not hin­dered.

Al­though I ac­knowl­edge that stu­dents with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties face their fair share of chal­lenges, too, phys­i­cal im­pair­ments of­ten re­quire far less ex­pla­na­tions to com­pre­hend, whereas a con­di­tion that is not vis­i­ble to the eye makes it more dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand and em­pathise with.

Fur­ther­more, a disor­der that af­fects a stu­dent’s cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties is go­ing to make it more chal­leng­ing for the in­di­vid­ual to learn and re­tain in­for­ma­tion.

The rea­son I feel so strongly about this is be­cause I know far too many young peo­ple who are strug­gling to reach their full po­ten­tial be­cause they are treated as “sec­ond-class” stu­dents in school. It is not their fault that they have a con­di­tion that makes it tough for them to make progress.

One of my In­sta­gram fol­low­ers told me that her younger sis­ter, who suf­fers from an anx­i­ety disor­der, had to change schools thrice dur­ing the span of her sec­ondary education. In the end, she ended up be­ing home­schooled af­ter all her teach­ers from the schools she at­tended failed to give her the help and em­pa­thy she needed de­spite be­ing per­son­ally in­formed by her psy­chi­a­trist, the kind of at­ten­tion she re­quired.

Stu­dents with any dis­abil­ity should not be re­garded as a bur­den to teach­ers. On the con­trary, they should be viewed like any other stu­dent who is brim­ming with tal­ent and unique skills that are wait­ing to be tapped into.

Stu­dents are not fac­tory-made; they are in­di­vid­u­als with their own strengths and weak­nesses. Just be­cause a stu­dent doesn’t fit the mould for aca­demic ex­cel­lence, it does not mean they can­not ex­cel like their peers. If it takes them a longer time, then so be it. Let’s not un­der­cut their po­ten­tial just be­cause they do not work within a typ­i­cal time­frame.

I truly hope that by 2050, it will be made manda­tory for teach­ers to be well-equipped with the knowl­edge and fa­cil­i­ties to teach stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties so that their par­ents won’t have to scour the earth to find a pri­vate learn­ing in­sti­tu­tion for their child, which is of­ten ex­pen­sive and in­ac­ces­si­ble.

Stu­dents with any kind of con­di­tion that pre­vents them from learn­ing at a reg­u­lar pace, not only need dif­fer­ent learn­ing ap­proaches, they also need the pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment other stu­dents re­ceive.

Far too of­ten, teach­ers ei­ther lack em­pa­thy and it is this neg­a­tive at­ti­tude that makes a stu­dent be­lieve they are of no value and causes them to per­form badly. Psy­chol­o­gists call this a “self­ful­fill­ing prophecy”.

Ev­ery stu­dent is an as­set to so­ci­ety, even if they do re­quire ex­tra as­sis­tance to get through school. If we were to utilise all our re­sources to strengthen and em­power them, not only are we se­cur­ing their fu­tures, we are also in­clud­ing them in the race to bring our coun­try for­ward.

Ig­nor­ing or un­der­min­ing stu­dents with phys­i­cal or men­tal dis­abil­i­ties only serves to cre­ate more com­pli­ca­tions in the fu­ture and ex­clude a group of peo­ple with so much po­ten­tial and tal­ent. Their unique ex­pe­ri­ence could even serve as a shining ex­am­ple to peo­ple with the same con­di­tions, that they, too, can achieve any­thing.

In a speech at SMK Sul­tanah Bahiyah in Alor Star, Kedah state education di­rec­tor Datuk Azuyah Has­san said: “In this day and age, it is ob­vi­ous that the role of education has changed.”

“We now need to pro­duce a gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents who are not only bril­liant, but com­pe­tent so that they may reach the qual­ity stan­dards needed to turn our na­tional as­pi­ra­tions into re­al­ity.”

Com­pe­tency re­quires the abil­ity to adapt to new sit­u­a­tions. If ev­ery teacher can mod­ify their ap­proach to teach­ing to the learn­ing re­quire­ments of their stu­dents, I have no doubt that we will cre­ate gen­er­a­tions of cit­i­zens that have the self-con­fi­dence to reach great heights due to the con­fi­dence that they were shown in their school­ing years.

Stu­dents are not fac­to­ry­made; they are in­di­vid­u­als with their own strengths and weak­nesses. Just be­cause a stu­dent doesn’t fit the mould for aca­demic ex­cel­lence, it does not mean they can­not ex­cel like their peers.

FILE PIC

A fa­ther and son who had just com­pleted the Walk of Hope in Ta­man Tasik Ti­ti­wangsa or­gan­ised by the Down Syn­drome As­so­ci­a­tion of Malaysia. Ev­ery child should be viewed as some­one who is brim­ming with tal­ent and unique skills that are wait­ing to be tapped into.

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