Tuesday, February 7, 2012

For Indonesia's disabled people, ‘extraordinary’ learning needs

From The Jakarta Globe:

SLB Negeri 4 in East Jakarta is not your typical state school. Its 18 teachers and staff look after 90 students from the kindergarten level to high school — a ratio of one staffer for every five students.

But that doesn’t mean the work is any easier. As an SLB, or extraordinary school, these instructors teach children with disabilities.

To be fair, according to Eka Prapti, the principal of SLB Negeri 4, Jakarta, they receive the standard financial support from the government.

“We receive School Operational Aid [BOS] and Education Operational Aid [BOP] from the Jakarta government,” she said, adding that it also received assistance for materials such as computers and Internet facilities.

But the challenges for SLBs lie elsewhere.

First, while there are 85 private extraordinary schools, there are only eight tuition-free SLB Negeri in Jakarta that children with disabilities from poor families can attend.

The number of disabled people nationwide, according to Social Affairs Ministry records, was 3 million in 2009, more than 1 million of whom suffered from physical disabilities and more than 360,000 of whom had mental handicaps. About 660,000 were of school age, 5 to 18 years old.

This means that state schools must turn away several applicants each year. According to the principal of SLB Negeri 7, Rubimin, its limited capacity means the school can only accept up to 30 new students every year, out of 75 applicants on average.

Another problem lies in policy. State SLBs are obligated to accept students with any type of disability, despite the wide range of teaching systems needed for each specific disability.

“Right now we only have teaching staff specialized for students with hearing disability and mental disability,” Eka said.

“It has been pretty hard for our staff to teach students with other disabilities, as it needs other staff that actually qualify in that specific area.”

Ministry data show that among children with disabilities in Indonesia, about 15 percent are hearing impaired and 12 percent have mental disabilities.

The biggest group is composed of physically disabled children, at more than 35 percent, and those afflicted with eyesight problems, at 17 percent.

“We strive to give our best effort to educate these students, but then again, there needs to be more supporting facilities,” said Daliman, the principal of SLB Negeri 5.

“We still lack these, especially in terms of teaching staff.”

Arief Rachman, the head of the Indonesian National Commission for Unesco, pointed out that one of the problems was a lack of awareness and, consequently, desire among people to become special education teachers.

“There has to be a special attention for the public to have the willingness to become a teacher and earn a special education to be a teacher,” he said, lamenting a declining trend in students who wanted to become teachers.

“All the kids ever want to do now is to become a lawyer, doctor or accountant.”

Better salaries, he said, was one approach that might encourage more people to become special education teachers.

But Arief also noted that many of the problems faced by extraordinary schools are common even in the nation’s regular schools.

Eka said that despite the limitations, she was grateful for what SLB Negeri 4 had compared to other state extraordinary schools in the capital.

Among the eight SLB Negeri in Jakarta, only four, including SLB Negeri 4, have their own proper school building. The other four must borrow other state schools’ buildings.

“SLB Negeri 3, for example, is still borrowing the building of SD Negeri Kepu Dalam in the Kemayoran area, while SLB Negeri 7 is still an auction building owned by the Jakarta Education Agency,” Eka said.