Are e-lessons accessible for special-needs children?

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       Every child should have equal access to school regardless of their physical, mental, emotional, social or linguistic circumstances. The Constitution of Mongolia and the Law on Education stipulate that everyone should have equal access to education. School closures have devastating consequences for all children, but children with disabilities are among those most at risk of falling behind. In particular, special-needs children or children with disabilities do not have the opportunity to watch e-lessons in Mongolia. As of 2019, there are 107,000 people with disabilities in Mongolia, 11,606 of whom are children. Nationwide, in the 2020-2021 school year, 1,158 children with disabilities were enrolled in kindergarten and 6,240 in school. About 75 percent of all disabled children were enrolled in schools. This means that not every child has equal access to education.

However, the key question is what should be done to educate more than 7,000 children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this difficult time of the pandemic, long-term interruptions in classroom education are creating the greatest risk for the education of special-needs children.

Senior specialist of the Special-Needs Education Department of the Ministry of Education and Science B.Gereltuya said, “Due to the specific characteristics and needs of children, television and e-learning are not fully accepted by children with disabilities. It is difficult to organize one-on-one training for children with special needs, as it is difficult for teachers and students to work together during lockdown. Therefore, there is a need to look for new teaching methods and technologies, improve the knowledge and skills of parents and child guardians to work with their children, and to cooperate with teachers and parents. Therefore, we are planning to implement recommendations for parents from professional organizations, as well as to conduct interactive lessons.”

As of September 2020, from March 16 to May 31 of this year, 189 tele-lessons for children with special educational needs in Mongolian language, mathematics and social sciences were developed for grades 1 to 12. However, visually impaired children were not able to access distance learning. Therefore, it is necessary to start printing textbooks for visually impaired children in braille, translate some textbooks through audiobook players or Daisy players, and provide basic equipment for visually and hearing impaired students.

In this regard, 200 million MNT needed to import the Daisy Reader was decided in cooperation with Japan's JICA. The textbook of School No. 116 was also published in braille. The sign language interpreting of tele lessons was carried out by teachers of School No. 29. Every year, people in the education sector talk about the lack of sign language teachers in Mongolia. There is also a need for curricula on how sign language teachers use scientific language.

SHORTAGE OF SPECIALISTS TO WORK WITH CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES


Currently, more than 20 teachers for education of special-needs children work at the Mongolian State University of Education (MSUE), the Institute of Education and special schools. The governments of Mongolia and Russia have an agreement to provide 550 students with Russian government scholarships each year. According to the agreement, eight students are studying special needs education in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Tomsk. In addition, a one-year conversion program for special needs teachers and a 3.5-year bachelor's degree program have been developed at the MSUE, said B.Gereltuya.

Training for special needs teachers was resumed in 2018, and 10 students were trained in language training in Irkutsk with the policy support of the Ministry of Education and Science. In the past, about 140 teachers graduated from the one-year conversion program and 3.5-year bachelor's degree program for special needs teachers at the MSUE. Next year, 16 students will graduate in this specialty. This means that around 160 teachers are not enough for more than 7,000 children.

“We must meet the special educational needs of children with disabilities. However, to date, not all needs have been met. This need includes the issue of qualified teachers. Therefore, one of the advantages of the MSUE is that it allows students
studying in other majors to study special needs education in their elective courses. We are also starting to train teachers in this field,” senior specialist B.Gereltuya said.

EDUCATION POLICIES FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

Relations related to the provision of educational opportunities for persons with disabilities and the support provided to them by the state and others are governed by the Constitution of Mongolia, other relevant laws, international treaties and legal norms.

The Constitution provides for human rights and freedoms, non-discrimination, and the right to education. The Law on Education contains a number of provisions on ensuring the right to education and support for persons with disabilities, curriculum, content, standards, tuition fees, funding, social security, and the role of teachers. In addition, Chapter 4 of the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities contains many provisions governing the right to education of persons with disabilities and Chapter 15 regulates the educational conditions for persons with disabilities.

In 2009, Mongolia acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The purpose of this convention is to ensure, protect and promote the full enjoyment of all the rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities, as well as to respect and uphold their dignity and worth. In 2016, the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted, which protects the rights of persons with disabilities to education and to create living conditions.

B.Gereltuya noted that the Ministry of Education and Science is implementing the above laws, pursuing a policy of equal access to education for children with disabilities in preschool, primary and secondary schools, and developing and implementing relevant legal documents.

In accordance with the policy, education support councils for children with disabilities were established in 21 provinces and 9 districts of Ulaanbaatar, and a support team was established to provide inclusive, high-quality and equal opportunities for children with disabilities, to create a friendly and responsible environment for children with disabilities to study at school, and to support continuous community-based development of children.

“In order to achieve the goals of inclusive education, we reach out to schools and teachers working with children with disabilities by organizing capacity building trainings for local and urban education officials, disseminating their best practices to others, and conducting policy advocacy work with other organizations,” she said.

New provisions are included in the bill on education, such as creating a common model environment for kindergartens and secondary schools to meet the special needs of students, providing appropriate materials, and reducing the number of school days by a certain percentage depending on the health.

On the contrary, the pandemic is providing a unique opportunity to rethink the need for accessible and inclusive education. Children with disabilities may require physical therapy, related care services, basic education support, and/or assistive technology, which is often only available at school. Children with learning disabilities are sensitive to changes in routine and need teacher support to work independently. Therefore, in such an emergency situation, there is an urgent need to develop a policy that provides education for children with disabilities.

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IS IMPORTANT IN E-LESSON

Prior to the ratification of certain education policies and regulations, the education of children with disabilities was entirely in the hands of parents.

Parents and legal guardians need to coordinate their daily work and devote as much time as possible for their children in order to teach them the content of special needs TV lessons. Experts say that children with different developmental needs are more interested in playing than in doing homework, have difficulty controlling their daily behavior, and have difficulty concentrating on one thing for long periods of time. Such a child needs some time and practice to adjust to the new situation. Therefore, they are not ready to study at home on their own and need the help and support of a caregiver.

Specialists suggests that in order to successfully implement tele-learning at home, parents and guardians should determine their children's leisure time each morning, schedule e-lessons, and discuss with their children the schedule. It is also important to make it clear to the child who will help and who will supervise the child, and to include it in the schedule. The help of parents and guardians can reduce and soothe a child's anxiety and worry, they said.

When teaching e-lesson to children, additional exercises and tasks that support language, attention, memory, critical thinking, and other cognitive activities should be developed in collaboration with the teacher and psychologist. Supporting children's emotions during tele-lessons is very effective, concluded B.Gereltuya. 

Misheel Lkhasuren

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