education goes to new level in govt. schools
Door opens for autistic kids
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
The classrooms are full of light and brightly painted. Educational
toys are on the shelves. Building blocks of multi-coloured elephants
sit on a desk while the old-fashioned slates hardly seen these days
also have the heads and legs of elephants. A beautiful sea horse
sticker looks down from the wall.
song is being played and some children are swaying to and fro. Suddenly
there is a shriek and one little boy darts away from the others
and runs to the next room. Sparkling eyes wide open, he rushes back
again, jumping up and down and attempts to climb the grill covering
the window, until a teacher gently leads him back to his seat.
montessori? Looks like one, but the five children present on the
day The Sunday Times visited the classes range in age from 6 to
12. The door grills are fixed in such a way that they have to be
opened from the outside by an adult by putting the hand through.
There are no glass window-panes accessible to the children and careful
thought has been given to the minutest detail.
is a first and revolutionary step for Sri Lanka in its path to give
an education to all in keeping with international trends. Ten little
ones are the “guinea pigs” who will pave the way for
the development and education of children with special needs who
have hitherto been neglected by Sri Lankan society.
far-reaching plans include the setting up of a national programme
for special education and the National Resource Centre for Special
Education set up in the premises of the Teacher Training College
in Maharagama is the first step. The centre opened its doors to
autistic children on July 7.
is an urgent need to conduct research, gather data from within the
country, train teachers and also make people aware about these children
who have been neglected to some extent,” stresses R.S. Medagama,
Consultant to the Education Ministry stressing that it is important
to dispel the stigma attached to children with special needs.
to him 10% of the people need special education programmes because
they fall into the categories of: visually handicapped, deficient
in hearing, physically handicapped, mentally impaired, multiple
disabled or those with learning difficulties. “There are different
degrees of mental retardation and about 30% of the people have learning
difficulties. Autism is a field we have not looked into,”
Non-formal and Special Education Director H.P.N. Lakshman that even
though from the 1960s, 1,200 schools, both national and provincial,
have had special education units and there are 25 special schools
that are state-assisted, like the Ratmalana Deaf and Blind School,
the requirements of certain specific categories of children with
special needs have not been addressed. “The special education
units and state-assisted institutions cater to about 15,000 students
with about 1,200 teachers trained in special education. However,
if you take autism, such children have just been integrated into
the special units, though their intellectual level, in most cases,
is higher and they may need a different teaching method.”
keeping with the vision of expanding special education, Ministry
Secretary Dr. Tara de Mel and ministry officials last year held
a round of discussions with those in the Health Ministry and the
psychiatry faculties of both the Colombo and Sri Jayewardenepura
Universities. That was when the need for a National Resource Centre
was identified, The Sunday Times learns.
a start, ten autistic children who were already in special education
units in schools in the Western Province were taken so that the
Resource Centre could train teachers here to be sent all over the
country. Already, 30 special education teachers have been trained
there,” says Mr. Lakshman adding that once the children come
to a certain standard they will be re-integrated into mainstream
schools and another batch brought in. “At the National Resource
Centre autism will be one prong of special education.”
that the modern world trend is “inclusive” education
for children with special needs, Mr. Medagama says the Resource
Centre for Special Education in Maharagama is to be developed as
a model. All primary teachers, more than 55,000, need to be able
to identify whether there are any special children in their classes,
as some of the problems encountered are not very perceptible. Then
they will be able to direct them to the special services they need
including medical help. Identifying such children would be the first
step in assisting them to cope with their special needs, he added.
a new and brighter era dawned for these often stigmatized children
in Sri Lanka? With the opening of the National Resource Centre in
Maharagama, hopefully, time will prove so.
All is not calm, however, at the Maharagama Teacher Training Centre,
with the lecturers and students being up in arms against the National
Resource Centre for Special Education.
took the best building and there are rumours that they will close
this training college which celebrated its centenary in 2003,”
laments a lecturer while the others echo her thoughts. This is because
the National Resource Centre has been set up here, she alleges.
teacher trainees are also upset, The Sunday Times learns.
“The Maharagama Training College will not be closed,”
stresses Chief Commissioner of Teacher Education Mallika Dharmalatha.
“We have only about 3,000 in-service teachers who have not
been trained and we advertised and took in about 2,000 this year
for a two-year training. The others are undergoing a distance learning
programme conducted by the NIE.
in 2007 when this large batch finishes, we will be re-organizing
the Maharagama Training College. Maharagama will then train teachers
who are handling special education and also hold short term training
programmes for all other teachers during school vacations. This
is for continuous teacher training.”
to pre-service teacher training, she said that when teachers are
recruited now they go straight into the 17 national Colleges of
Education, so when they join schools they are already trained.
National Resource Centre located at Maharagama will only have a
“demonstration and observation class” of children, specifically
for the teachers to learn the techniques of handling such children,
she explained, adding that the centre is being developed, with World
Bank and UNICEF help, as a research centre of excellence in special
education not only for this country but also for South Asia.
education is a compulsory component of teacher education. “Teachers
will observe the children with special needs and learn how to teach
them. There will also be training of teacher trainers themselves.
We have established a Braille printing machine there now, so that
all aspects of special education would be covered.”
of gifted children? They too fall under the “special”
category and their needs too will be looked into at the centre.
With regard to fears among the Maharagama lecturers that they would
be transferred out, she says only the excess staff would have to
go to the other training colleges.