I and my colleagues, Drs Matt Schuelka and Maria Reraki, visited Malaysia from the 23rd of November to the 2nd of December. The reason for this trip was to get an understanding of the current situation of inclusion in the country and, based on the local people’s needs and priorities, to come up with a valuable research project. During our stay there we delivered a number of workshops and we had meetings with practitioners, parents and policy makers. We also had the chance to visit a number of schools both governmental and international.
Reflecting back on the trip, I find it hard to select the moments which impacted on me the most as it was a very intense and valuable experience overall. I have, perhaps, to start with our visit to the refugee school ‘Ideas Academy’. It was the first time I ever visited such a school and I was surprised by the fact that children who are legal refugees do not have access to local schools in Malaysia. Although I don’t believe that inclusion should necessarily mean mainstreaming (Hornby, 2015), I was shocked to see a school consisting of only refugee students, some of them very bright and with very good English language skills. The definition of inclusion as described by the teachers in governmental schools and Ministry representatives at the conferences we attended was another interesting point I keep from this trip. Currently in Malaysia, in order for a school to be inclusive they need to accept at least one child with disabilities. However, in most cases these children end up in different classes at completely separate parts of the school and they do not mix with Typically Developing (TD) children even at break times. Although we did not have the chance to see the inclusion practice in a governmental school (they had already broken up for holidays when we were there), from the descriptions of the local people it felt that inclusive schools are often in reality rather exclusive special schools within the premises of mainstream schools. It is not surprising, therefore, why the phrase I used in one of our workshops ‘Inclusion is a feeling, not a place’ (Goodall, 2018) made a great impression to many people in the audience.
From the very memorable moments of this trip, it was exciting to see a number of parents from the Down Syndrome foundation who came to the UoB alumni event. None of these parents were UoB alumni but they were brought over by an alumna friend of them as they wanted to talk to academics from the Department of Disability Inclusion and Special Needs (DISN)and explore how we can support them. I had long discussions with a number of them and admired their efforts but also their vision to create a better world for their children while raising awareness in their country; in Malaysia there is a strong stigma associated with disability and most children with Down Syndrome attend home schooling. Last but not least, I have to mention the visits to Anyaman preschooland the Unique school. The former is an Early Years international school following the Reggio Emilia approachand the latter an all age international school with very innovative approaches in teaching but also assessing pupils. It was eye opening that there are hubs of excellent practice in which inclusion was achieved to a great extent.
I left Malaysia full of excitement. Although I think that a lot needs to be done on public awareness and teacher training in terms of SEN and disability, there are settings in Kuala Lumpur which can have a pioneering and leading role in this effort. It was my first time visiting Malaysia and Southeast Asia and I was fascinated by the blend of ethnic groups and religions which co-exist in the country. I learnt a lot from interacting with locals, seeing provisions and attending conferences there. I believe there are some excellent opportunities to work with local settings of excellent practice to support the vision of inclusion and best quality education for all children as opposed to imposing Western views on the local stakeholders and settings. Although still a bit jet lagged and tired, I feel full of energy and ideas in order to put a comprehensive research proposal together to promote an inclusive educational system. I could not agree with Imray and Colley (2017) more that this can only be achieved within a diverse and inclusive society and raising public awareness on disability is a step towards this direction.
Photos from the trip
Goodall, C. (2018) Inclusion is a feeling, not a place: A qualitative study exploring autistic young people’s conceptualisations of inclusion. International Journal of Inclusive Education, online first DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2018.1523475
Hornby, G. (2015) Inclusive special education: development of a new theory for the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities. British Journal of Special Education, 42 (3): 234-256.
Imray, P. and Colley, A. (2017) Inclusion is dead: long live inclusion. London: Routledge