Sunday, February 21, 2021

How Covid-19 has disrupted the routine of special needs students

These students have an especially hard time adapting to online learning.

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The Covid-19 pandemic which saw schools nationwide shut down multiple times since March has played havoc with the academic year, perhaps especially so for special needs children whose classroom routines and learning activities, along with everyone else’s, have been disrupted and replaced with online lessons and printed modules.

These students include those with hearing disabilities, those who are visually impaired, those with speech impediments, the physically disabled, and those with learning disabilities.

Their situation appears cemented by the latest directive under the conditional movement control order (CMCO) imposed across most of the country for schools to close for the rest of the year.

But experts warn that the teaching methods employed in lieu of face-to-face sessions with educators will not work without effective cooperation between teachers and parents, especially to ensure that each student follows the classes according to their own pace.

“Educators who teach special needs children are more aware of the abilities and needs of individual students.

“They need to plan their lessons well so that every student can still benefit,” Che Aznan Ahmad, the special education unit coordinator for Universiti Sains Malaysia told MalaysiaNow.

He acknowledged however that such learning methods would present a challenge to parents unless they have been trained as educators.

He therefore urged teachers to tap their creativity instead of depending solely on virtual classes.

For example, he said, teachers could limit the content and exercises given to students to avoid overtaxing them, and use video recordings which would allow them to follow each class as many times as they need to.

“Progress evaluations by teachers could also motivate students to finish their lessons,” he said.

Challenges for teachers

A special needs teacher in Batu Pahat, Johor, meanwhile spoke of concerns among educators that students would drop out due to the closure of schools.

The teacher, who called himself Cikgu Din, said hundreds of parents had complained that their children could not absorb lessons from home.

“For them, there is no maths class at 9am and no Bahasa Melayu class at 8.30am. At home, they are free.

“The parents’ response is, these students are rejecting such sessions. They don’t want to learn. This will lead to dropouts,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“We are not focused on finishing the syllabus. Our focus is on helping them understand it.”

He said students would also forget what they had learnt over the long school break.

“So teachers need to determine their level of ability again once schools reopen,” he added.

To resolve the issues that accompany learning from home, he said, teachers advise parents against ordering their children to participate in online classes.

He said teachers do not force special needs students to complete every lesson module provided.

“When we say that homework must be completed, the parents are the ones who do it while the students just watch. We want parents to be the teachers, not the students.

“So let them teach and help the students along according to their individual ability,” he said.

Qammar Fatihah however has had a different experience with the new normal in education. His students are actually more excited about attending online classes.

“They can use all sorts of gadgets,” he said. “Sometimes classes can continue for two hours because it takes a long time to calm them down.”

He and his fellow teachers have no choice but to take classroom sessions online during the pandemic, but he makes the effort to call up each of his students to ensure that they are able to follow their lessons and understand their homework.

He also records explanations and problem solution methods for his students to refer to while completing their work.

“We are not focused on finishing the syllabus. Our focus is on helping them understand it.”

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