Access to education for children with disabilities in Indonesia is indeed a challenging issue. Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2017 shows that out of 1.6 million children with disabilities identified in Indonesia, only 26% or around 427 thousand children have access to education, both through special schools (8%) or inclusive schools (18%). In addition, it is also known that out of 514 regencies/cities in Indonesia, 58 do not have public special schools at all. Meanwhile, the ones that already have only got one school per region (Tribunnews, 2019) which is certainly not enough to accommodate all children with disabilities in the area. Thus, more than one million other children, including those who have not been identified, have not obtained their right to access education. One of the main factors of this condition is inadequate infrastructure and other supporting facilities supported by the government. In 2017, the government was only able to support the construction of 11 special schools throughout the country (Kemendikbud, 2017). This shows Indonesia is still lacking a commitment to fulfilling the rights of children with disabilities is.
The inadequate number of special schools is certainly not the only limiting factor for children with disabilities to get a proper education. Special schools that are already operating still face various problems that hamper their efforts to provide a quality education for children with disabilities. Ms Hestina Saputri, the principal of Skh Insan Mulia, the first special school in Tangerang Regency, Banten rebuilt by Happy Hearts Indonesia, talked about the challenges they are facing that include the issue of financial constraints, disability stigma, teacher limitations, building conditions, to the absence of therapy facilities.
Ms Saputri explained how difficult it is to build public awareness on the importance of education for children with disabilities. Having visited countless families around Sepatan District, Tangerang Regency whose members are living with disabilities, she learned that financial problem is one of the main inhibiting factors. Many parents cannot afford the cost of special education, especially in private special schools. Meanwhile, some others are unable to bear the transportation cost due to the relatively long distance from where they live to the nearest special school. In addition, the stigma that having children with disabilities is a shame and that sending them to school is futile are the other reasons why many parents choose to keep their children at home.
“Education on parenting for children with disabilities is another important factor that needs serious attention. Many parents still do not understand what should and should not be done when dealing with their children under certain conditions. For instance, despite frequent reminder, many parents of our students are still letting their children consume sugar and flour-based foods at home, which makes the children become aggressive. This means teachers will have to work twice as hard to have the children calmed down. The progress we make day after day in the classroom will eventually be eroded due to the lack of understanding among parents on how to handle their children at home,” said Ibu Saputri.
Skh Insan Mulia itself still faces many obstacles to accommodate the needs of its students. Before the construction of two additional classrooms and one therapy room were carried out this year, the school only had four small classrooms to accommodate about 70 students with various special needs. This condition requires the school to divide learning activities into two groups: morning and afternoon. This division of classes is not ideal considering the high temperature in the afternoon will affect their mood and make them restless. Furthermore, this arrangement also makes it very tiring for teachers.
Ibu Putri added, “Ideally, one classroom is for five children, but in reality, we have to allow up to 12 children in the same class even though the room size is relatively small and we do not have sufficient air conditioning. Moreover, it is very difficult to find teachers who want to teach in special schools. In addition to not many who have a background in special education, many are retreating when they find out about the salary and responsibilities they must take. When a teacher is taking a day off, the other teacher must teach and supervise two classes at once. Imagine, handling 20 children with special needs by yourself. Not to mention, for children who live with severe autism, ideally two teachers are needed to assist the child. We obviously don’t have the capacity to fulfil this yet.”
In addition to the room size, the number of students and teachers, there are still many other factors that significantly affect the quality of learning activities in special schools. The type and arrangement of furniture, room temperature, air circulation, room lighting, even the colour of the walls will also have an effect on the children’s ability to be engaged in the class. Other learning facilities such as stationery, educational toys and therapy equipment must also be available in sufficient quantities and of good quality. Unfortunately, our special schools are far from this ideal condition.
On a side note, although the government has recently promoted the idea of inclusive schools, it does not mean that the issue of education access for children with disabilities has been addressed. The reason is that to be able to function properly, inclusive schools must also have adequate facilities and qualified teaching staff to handle children with special needs. Therefore, as our effort to be part of the solution, Happy Hearts Indonesia is committed to rebuilding and equipping more special schools and inclusive schools in the future. We believe that together, we can give better access to education for children with disabilities in Indonesia. No children should be left behind.