June 16, 2014 00:00 By Chularat Saengpassa
Model centre for disabled children opens in far North
With a small population of about 250,000, Mae Hong Son province sadly has the highest rate of infants born with physical disabilities and mental disorders. As many as 1,000 children here have special needs due to these health problems.
Yet fortunately for them, local authorities are keen to pursue an initiative that will guarantee them educational opportunities. Now, there is a bright hope that all of these children will receive education within the next five years.
“We plan to open learning centres for underprivileged and disabled children in all districts,” Deputy Governor Sutha Saiwanich said last week during the opening ceremony for the third such centre in his province.
Located in Pang Mapha district, this centre is modelled after a Special Education Centre set up in Mae Sariang two years ago in the same province.
Jongjit Chaiyawong, a teacher at the Mae Sariang centre, said it had played an active role in surveying local children, identifying those with special needs and bringing them to the facility to prepare them for further education.
“It’s quite hard to persuade their parents at first,” Jongjit said, “but after we take time to explain everything and show some examples, they understand.”
The Mae Sariang Special Education Centre first sprang into operation through a collaboration of the Quality Learning Foundation, Naresuan University and the Mae Hong Son Special Education Centre. Inspired by the QLF, these organisations have come together to develop a system that will provide educational security for underprivileged and disabled children.
Their efforts have been blossoming in Mae Hong Son, where local bodies have eagerly embraced the concept. There are now three learning centres for children with special needs in the province, in Pang Mapha, Mae Sariang and Pai districts.
Mae Hong Son is one of the poorest provinces in Thailand, with per-capita income at less than Bt23,000 a year. Understandably, there are a relatively large number of underprivileged children here compared with its total population. With prevailing poverty, malnutrition is one of the reasons many infants here are born with disabilities of one kind or another.
Another common cause is the fact that locals are prone to marry close relatives. There are just eight tribes of people in Mae Hong Son and they usually marry within their own tribe.
Kannachai, 7, has had visual impairment since his birth. Before the special learning centre was established in his home town, his elder sister had kept him at home all day and all night. Wherever he went, she went with him to ensure his safety.
“I took him into the toilet, too,” Moman, now 18, recounted.
Their lives have improved after the centre offered advice on how best to care for children with special needs. Kannachai is now able to walk around on his own and live a quite normal life. He has started studying Braille and has hopes for a career in the future.
Kraiyos Patrawat, a QLF expert on educational economics policies, is satisfied with the progress made in Mae Hong Son and is in the process of expanding this initiative to other provinces. The so-called Mae Hong Son model has now been introduced to Phuket, Phitsanulok, Amnat Charoen and Nan.
Woralak Kongdehfha, a lecturer and researcher at Naresuan University, said that when relevant organisations join forces, tangible results can be achieved. She said the Special Education Bureau of the Education Ministry had provided academics who plan how to take care of children with special needs.
Health workers can contribute by prescribing proper physical-health programmes, such as developing muscles and dexterity. Officials from social-welfare bodies can also help by registering these children and ensuring they get disability benefits.
“We have stepped in to take charge of the initiative’s IT system. We have compiled a database for them. This means that even when officials retire, we have information to facilitate the smooth flow of work,” she said.
Ann, 30, had never thought that her deaf daughter would be able to go to school until the learning centre for children with special needs opened in her home district of Pai.
“The centre has prepared my daughter for real education. Now, my girl has been attending her class at the Chiang Mai School for the Deaf,” the mother said.
“She can now take care of herself. She can communicate with basic sign language.”
There are now about 4.7 million children classed as underprivileged in Thailand’s
education system. This is about 33 per cent of children in the country.
In Mae Hong Son, some 35,000 of the 47,224 students are rated as underprivileged. Some 1,000 of these are disabled children, and about a third of them (370), have no access to education.