Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cambodian pre-schoolers with disabilities benefit from newly trained teachers

Class interacts with her pre-school teacher and classmates.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
It’s an early morning in Stoung district, 212 kilometres north of Phnom Penh, and a class of pre- schoolers at Treng State Pre-School sing the chorus of a traditional Khmer welcome song. Among those actively taking part in the twice-a-day singing ritual, is 5 year-old, Phat Ni Ta. Although Ni Ta is unable to speak, she observes her classmates intensely, mimicking their mouth movements whilst firmly holding onto a small soft ball.

Ni Ta, who was diagnosed as having a learning disability in May of this year, enrolled at the Treng State Pre-School in January 2011.  She is supported in the classroom by her pre-school teacher, Mok Khon, who recently completed training on inclusive education. In Ni Ta’s child-friendly class, four students are considered to have a disability, and together they learn and play with their non-disabled classmates.

When Ni Ta was eighteen months old, her parents became concerned about her behaviour and physical development.

“She was short-tempered, screamed constantly and would bang her head on the floor repeatedly”, recalled 32 year-old, mother of two, Perk Phern. We visited the doctor when she was a year and a half, and was informed there was nothing wrong with her,” she added.

Last month, fearing her daughter had serious behavioural problems, Phern booked an appointment with a paediatrician at Kantak Bopha Children’s Hospital, in Siem Reap. The paediatrician diagnosed Ni Ta as having a learning disability.

“We were worried about her development as she is unable to speak, has some difficulties holding objects, and cannot walk straight for short periods without falling over”, explained Phern. “But she seems happier now she attends the pre-school. She enjoys interacting with her classmates,” said Phern.
Pre-schoolers with disabilities learn the alphabet through the use of picture cards.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
Key developments
Ni Ta is able to interact with her classmates in a child-friendly environment as a result of two key developments; a recently approved Policy on Education for Children with Disabilities and the development of an inclusive education training programme funded by IKEA with support from UNICEF and Handicap International Belgium.

The Policy on Education for Children with Disabilities was developed in 2008, with support from UNICEF, the Disability Action Council, and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. It aims to ensure the rights of all children with disabilities to equal education with their non-disabled peers.

The 5-day inclusive education training programme was conducted in November 2011 and February 2012. The training equipped 30 pre-school teachers; 20 school directors; and nine directors of Provincial Offices of Education (POE) in Kampong Thom and Prey Veng provinces, with basic knowledge on inclusive education and identifying children with disabilities in their communities. Following their training, the pre-school teachers received development materials specifically for inclusive pre-schools.
Ni Ta’s, pre-school teacher, Mok Khon, Treng State Pre-School.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
Additional skills
Even though, Mok Khon, Ni Ta’s pre-school teacher has not witnessed any significant developments in Ni, Ta’s speech since attending the pre-school, her physical ability appears to have improved. Khon believes this improvement is a result of her learning basic physiotherapy techniques during the inclusive training, and applying the newly acquired skills in the classroom.

“When Ni Ta first came to the pre-school, she wasn’t able to hold items in her hand. I’ve been conducting regular physiotherapy sessions in the classroom to strengthen Ni Ta’s weak arm, and now she can hold light items such as soft toys,” says Khon proudly.

Plans for the future

Later this year, the inclusive education training will be expanded to Battambang province and place greater emphasis on improving the quality of the overall programme. Additional support materials will be developed including, a communication board for deaf and mute children, to facilitate the interaction between pre-school teachers and students.  And to provide pre-school teachers with additional support, follow-up monitoring visits to the pre-schools and technical meetings will take place.

By Angelique Reid

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