KUCHING: All early childhood education (ECE) centres should include children with special needs in their classes to give them the opportunity to foster developmental gains, in that 80 per cent of the brain’s capacity develops before the age of three.
According to Minister of Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah, it is well established that early intervention stands as the most effective educational programme with a significant impact on behavioural problems and abilities.
She said inclusive education could be extremely worthy and beneficial, both for the children with special needs and the typical children in the inclusive classroom – although this could be very challenging at the same time.
By definition, inclusion is the practice of including children with special needs into a regular child development or a childhood educational setting that houses typically developing children of similar age – under a specialised instruction and support system.
“I understand many teachers and childcare providers are reluctant to have a child with delayed development or special needs, in their programmes because they do not feel confident in their ability to provide learning opportunities and support for such child, in addition to meeting the needs of the other children in the group,” she said in opening the ‘First Conference on Early Childhood Education Inclusion: The Way Forward’ here yesterday.
Therefore, she added, teachers and childcare providers should undergo specialised professional development through programmes such as attending workshops, seminars and conferences on relevant subjects.
According to her, researchers have found that children with disabilities – upon interacting with peers with higher-level social skills – often imitate these behaviours and skills in the future.
“Inclusion provides opportunities for children with special needs to learn by observing and interacting with other children of similar age. These children have time and support to build relationships outside home, chance to practice social skills in the real world situations and be exposed to a wide variety of challenges under the guidance of caring and supportive adults other than their parents,” said Fatimah.
However, not all children with special needs are suitable for such exercise, she pointed out.
“Screening is necessary to identify the suitable group of children for inclusion. For example, children who are deaf, mute and blind as well as those with moderate to severe cases of intellectually disability, may not be suitable for inclusion.”
“On the other hand, children with mild intellectual disabilities such as Down Syndrome and mild neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) are suitable for inclusion.
“Children with mild cerebral palsy can also be included in early children educational programme.”
Fatimah stressed that teachers play a crucial role towards ensuring the success of the inclusion exercise.
“They can create an environment, both physical and emotional, to provide equal opportunities for everyone to participate and where everyone is treated fairly with respect and kindness. They can help children feel comfortable with each other and develop friendships based on their shared interests.”
The Association of Registered Child Care Providers of Sarawak (PPBS) hosted the conference in collaboration with the state government and National Early Childhood Intervention Council, with the Association of Registered Child Care Providers of Malaysia (PPBM) and Sarawak Convention Bureau (SBC) coming in as sponsors.
In its statement yesterday, PPBS said it initiated the conference as it believed that inclusive education is necessary; that the development of inclusive education in the ECE centres is ‘really important’ in order to achieve a holistic quality ECE and care.
“PPBS has decided to move forward to advocate for inclusive education – this first conference is the first step towards this. We believe that every child is equal and they deserve the best quality of care and education.”
Around 400 local and international early childhood educators and care providers, healthcare professionals, lecturers, policy-makers, as well as parents attended the conference.