Children with learning difficulties can attain schooling success if they are given opportunities, effective teaching approaches and appropriate programs.
Despite the fact that some international curriculum schools offer programs for children with special needs, can these children — whether they have dyslexia, autism, Down’s syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) — actually benefit from an international education?
Besides using English as the language of instruction, a few so-called national plus schools — combining national and international curricula — have succeeded in delivering effective programs to children identified with mild, moderate and severe learning difficulties.
“These children undoubtedly need a specialized learning program in order to receive an appropriate education that fits their needs,” said Gregory Grinham, school education coordinator at PSKD Mandiri, adding that “should they be given the right learning methods, we can actually unearth their potentials.”
Grinham advises that children with learning difficulties — whether categorized as mild, moderate or severe — should be given as much opportunity as regular students during schooling. “You never know, their potential may gradually emerge if guided in the right direction.”
He then gives an example of students with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism-like condition. “Even though these children often have cognitive problems such as in reading, writing and math, many of them have above average Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in verbal ability.”
In spite of their impediments, both dyslexic and autistic children actually have gifts not commonly possessed by normal children. “These children are good at visual literacy. Since they possess outstanding talent in recognizing objects in their surroundings, these gifted children indeed have the potential to become visual and conceptual thinkers,” said Penniati Rasahan, Principal of Grades 1 to 6 at PSKD Mandiri.
Dyslexia is a reading distortion, where the ability to read is hindered, while autism is a brain disorder that often disrupts the person’s ability to communicate with others. However, an autistic person is usually also dyslexic.
Through psychological, diagnostic tests and daily observation, a school is able to assess what program fits each child. “Diagnostic tests help identify each child’s needs in our special program, but we also work on recognizing each child’s strengths. This is our way of ensuring that an appropriate program will meet each child’s individual needs,” said Nurmedia Sainstiani, coordinator of Madania’s Learning Support Faculty.
Madania Sekolah Berwawasan Internasional (a school with an international nuance) is a national plus school with an obligation to serve all students who seek enrollment. The school’s vision to “develop a civil society” includes both regular and special needs students.
Sainstiani says, “Indeed, serving special needs students is aimed not only at satisfying and involving parents and producing better academic results for students, but also presents special challenges for our school.”
Working from the notion that special children are also part of today’s plural and inclusive civil society, Madania School has been striving to nurture and educate children with learning difficulties by emphasizing the importance of behavior, emotion, socialization, communication, fine and gross motor skills as well as daily living skills.
Furthermore, by actively working together with parents, professional psychologists and aide teachers, the school’s dedicated staff has made the program a success. “Our program is inclusive. Our special students are placed in the same class as regular students. However, we limit the number to two per class,” Sainstiani explains.
She stresses that children with learning difficulties should not be categorized as second-class citizens. And this inclusiveness gives opportunities for these special students to interact and participate in regular activities with other students. In addition, some students follow an individual education plan, which allows the school to address students’ needs on a one-to-one basis.
Sekolah Global Mandiri, having combined national and Cambridge curriculum, provides facilities for students with learning difficulties such as autism, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, learning disorder and cerebral palsy.
According to Dhanny Widata, coordinator of the Special Center at Sekolah Global Mandiri, “While some special needs students can fully benefit from an international education as much as regular students, some are only able to partially gain from the school’s curriculum.”
For that reason, the school splits the programs for special needs students into two parts; integrated and inclusive programs.
The integrated program is designed for those who have difficulty in keeping up with the school’s curriculum and are therefore not placed together with regular students. Under the inclusive program, in spite of their special needs, students are put in the same classes as regular students.
“Currently, we have 34 students with special needs, 25 of whom are in the integrated program, while the other nine have successfully moved into taking regular classes,” Widata said.
Rachel Groves, the primary years program principal at Sekolah Tunas Muda, says that placing children with learning difficulties together with regular students, as long as the condition is not severe, helps both those with and without learning difficulties learn the value of diversity.
“Children behave differently. Thus, it is important that a child learns the value of one self and others as well as appreciate diversity,” Groove noted.
Even though Sekolah Tunas Muda does not have a special center nor specialists for special needs students, the school has a number of students with mild Down’s syndrome and autism spectrum (a different level of mild autism). As long as the condition of the students is considerably mild, the school allows one special needs student per class.
Nevertheless, Groves further says that “We need to give extra attention to the special needs students in order to both minimize class distraction and help them keep up with lessons.”
By Aulia Rachmat, published in The Jakarta Post, August 26, 2007.