Indonesia's educational system is often the subject of criticism compared to the needs of a highly skilled workforce. Among the nation’s hard working teachers are those entrusted with the task of assisting the development of children with special needs, for whom education is even harder to access. The Jakarta Post's Nani Afrida compiled the following report.
A boy sits in his wheelchair, his hands constantly moving, apparently beyond his control. Nine-year-old Doni doesn't look like he is pain, but he lacks expression. Doctors have diagnosed Doni with cerebral palsy and even though his condition is considered moderate, he still requires special attention and treatment.
Medical dictionaries define cerebral palsy (CP) as a disorder of movement and posture caused by the abnormal development of, or damage to, motor control centers of the brain. CP is caused by events before, during or after birth. People with CP also experience other neurological and physical abnormalities.
Against all apparent odds, Doni's father Akhyar Hamid is determined for his son to have access to education and a stimulating environment appropriate for a child.
As one might imagine, having a child with cerebral palsy was a new experience for Akhyar. He often takes Doni to the supermarket or the park. He also enrolled Doni in an elementary special school where Doni could make friends and learn from his teachers. His parents thought the school in Lenteng Agung had an atmosphere more suitable for Doni than the more specialized Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Disabled Children (YPAC), also in Jakarta.
Whenever Akhyar sees Doni studying in school with his friends and teachers, he says he forgets Doni has special needs, and that with a patient teacher, Doni could slowly overcome his difficulties just like any other child. Through the school windows, Akhyar likes to watch Doni learning how to use a pen and how to spell. But he insists the best support for Doni's education comes from the family.
“Teaching Doni how to speak is not easy, so we combine it with sign language, but sometimes it is also difficult as Doni’s hands often move uncontrollably,” he said.
During meals, Doni's parents say they must show extra patience to teach him how to hold a spoon. Sometimes Doni throws his plate angrily and eating time can be a messy, difficult time for everybody.
Akhyar has forgotten when Doni first learned to speak several important words including his own name, eat with a spoon and wipe his mouth with a tissue or handkerchief.
“I think it took years. But this is good progress for us and I am happy for him,” he said.
In another school, the classroom wall was adorned with students’ drawings. Indah and her two friends were learning about colors from their teacher’s sketch of three big flowers.
The teacher, Yulianingsih, carefully repeated the colors one by one, followed slowly by Indah and her classmates. It took more than 30 minutes for Indah to repeat the three colors and recognize the words.
“Good job, you know the colors now,” said Yulianingsih, praising her smiling students. They all live with Down’s syndrome, a common and readily identifiable chromosomal condition associated with intellectual disabilities, according to one definition.
Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy are only two of a group of identified medical conditions that lead to learning disabilties. The schools and teachers in Indonesia’s cities that can help children with these conditions develop into independent adults are few. Supportive families are also uncommon. Difficulties are compounded by the fact that parents are confused by different diagnoses, they say, followed by tiring and expensive tests and therapies.
Regarding education, standard special schools are a basic option. Ideally, many of these children should be in regular schools with their own teaching assistants, but the government says skilled teachers are too low in number; an estimated 16,000 teachers for at least 300,000 children identified with special needs.
Only some 75,000 have accessed education, according to the Education and Culture Ministry. So for now, special needs schools (SLB) are where the likes of Doni and his family patiently wait, welcoming each sign of progress.
One reason why families with children like Doni and Indah seek other schools is because SLB lump all mental disabilities into category “C” known as tuna grahita (absence of understanding). The other categories are SLB A for the blind and visually impaired and SLB B for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Without having advanced knowledge of teachers at more specialized schools, the end of each lesson at SLB already looks like a miraculous feat.
“Teachers must use various methods because one tuna grahita student is different to another in terms of abilities and habits,” Rudi, a teacher responsible for the curriculum at the SLB Lenteng Agung school, told The Jakarta Post recently.
For instance, some children might understand math if the teacher uses marbles, while others might understand better if stones or seeds are used.
“One student needs one strategy. The teacher must be creative,” Rudi said with a smile.
Teachers usually meet at least once a year to categorize their students. Children with similar abilities are usually placed together in the same group regardless of their age differences.
Rudi said parents insisted that teachers helped their children to become literate as soon as possible.
“They don’t understand that even though the children are in sixth grade, they may only be able to master the alphabet,” said Rudi, who teaches sixth graders.
He said that the SLB aimed to make special students independent, but that a lack of resources made parents’ participation vital.
The big question is the fate of those children categorized as “medium” or “severe” in terms of their learning disabilities.
Although SLB Lenteng Agung, which has around 168 students and 58 teachers, is the largest state special school in South Jakarta, the school still has difficulty accepting students with more difficult conditions compared to Doni and Indah.
“We aren’t equipped with the therapy techniques,” said Yani, a teacher.
Several children categorized with such conditions are enrolled at YPAC.
But some parents are willing to fork out much more for schools that are considered to be better. In exasperation, some parents have even set up their own schools.
One is the Rumah Anak Mandiri Karim (RAM Karim) in Ciganjur, South Jakarta. The informal school provides regular classes, boarding and home stays for children with special needs. Students here mostly have Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and those diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
According to Fauzan Safari, the operational leader in RAM Karim, the school’s owner had a son with autism, but could not find a suitable school.
“Parents who send their children here mostly want their children to be independent and have been disappointed with formal education,” he said.
Fauzan added there were 22 students, some from Kalimantan and Sumatra, living at RAM Karim. The school also has 16 teachers.
He said children learn writing, reading, swimming, behavior, praying and becoming independent. The school has a swimming pool, therapy room and bedrooms as well as classrooms.
“Here they learn to eat by themselves, wash after eating and count money when they go shopping,” Fauzan said. One child with cerebral palsy could eat by himself now, he said, and another had stopped eating his own feces.
“We believe these children need more than just attention, they need something else for a better future,” said Fauzan.
Some organizations working with the disabled
• Yayasan Cinta Harapan Indonesia (Autism Care Indonesia)
Jl. H. Saikin No. 2 Rt. 014 /08, Pondok Pinang, Jakarta Selatan
Tel: (021) 7581 6178, 9372 4536
Fax: (021) 7581 6178
email: [email protected]
• Rumah Anak Mandiri Karim (optional boarding school)
Jl Pasir no. 30
Moh. Kahfi I Rt 01/06
Ciganjur, Jakarta Selatan
• Sarana Pusat Terapi Terpadu
Graha Simatupang Tower 2
Jl. Letjend. TB Simatupang Kav. 38 Pasar Minggu,
Jakarta Selatan 12540, Tel 021-7827980
• Yayasan Pembinaan Anak Cacat Nasional (YPAC)
Jln. Hang Lekiu III No. 19 - Kebayoran Baru Jakarta Selatan 12120.
Tel: (021) 7243123
• Yayasan Ikatan Syndroma Down Indonesia (ISDI)
Jl. Cipaku 1 No. 13 Kebayoran Baru
Jakarta Selatan, 12170
Tel: (021) 7255958
• Center of Hope
Jl. Danau Indah Barat Blok B9 No. 10, Sunter, Jakarta Utara, run by ISDI
• Yayasan Autisma Indonesia (YAI)
Jasmine Tower Lt. 2, #CC02
Apartemen Kalibata City,
Jl. Kalibata Raya No. 1, Jakarta 12750
[email protected], www.autisme.or.id
• Klinik Anak YAMET (Yayasan Medical Exercise Therapy)
Jl. H Ismail No 15 B Komplek Taman Cilandak
Jakarta Selatan 12430
• College of Allied Educators (Subsidiary of Linguistic Council)
Menara Kuningan Unit F2
Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Blok X-7, Kav. 5
Tel: 021 3001 5796, 021 3300 6177/88
Fax: 021 3001 5795
Program Manager: Danny Kurniawan
Tel: +6221 94700766
Email: [email protected] , [email protected], [email protected]
Source: From various sources
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