The 2013 special education regulations define inclusive education as an educational programme that enables students with special education needs to study in the same class with their peers in public or non-public schools.
Special education needs
The 2013–25 Education Blueprint considers students with special education needs to include learners with visual impairment, hearing impairment, speech difficulties, physical disabilities, multiple disabilities and learning disabilities, such as autism, Down’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. Students with special needs are those with specific needs, indigenous learners and others belonging to ethnic groups such as to Orang Asli and Penan, gifted students and students in under-enrolled schools.
The Malaysia public education school system consists, at primary level, of national schools, whose language of instruction is Bahasa Malaysia (the official Malay language), and national-type schools, whose language of instruction is Chinese or Tamil. Secondary education is provided only in Bahasa Malaysia. The Ministry of Education also supports religious schools, as stated in the 1996 Education Act (Section 10).
For learners with special education needs, there are three types of school options:
- Special education schools are targeted at learners with the same type of disability, such as schools for students with hearing, visual and/or learning disabilities. In 2014, there were 28 primary and 5 secondary special education schools. In 2015, the Ministry of Education opened the special education schools to all students with special needs regardless of their type of disabilities, including children with learning disabilities.
- The Special Education Integrated Programme (SEIP) provides education to learners with special education needs in dedicated special classes within regular schools. As of 2014, SEIP counted 1,315 primary schools and 738 secondary schools. The majority of regular schools providing SEIP are located in urban and suburban areas.
- As part of the inclusive education programme, one to five learners with special needs are integrated into a mainstream class. Children and students with special education needs must be deemed suitable by the teachers to be included in the programme.
In early childhood care and education, early intervention programmes were initiated for children aged 4 to 6. Subsequently converted into schools for children with special needs with dedicated budget allocations, they currently encompass 22 schools for hearing impaired children, 5 for visually impaired and 1 for children with learning disabilities.
As a joint initiative of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health Malaysia and the non-government organization Yayasan Nurul Yaqeen, the School in Hospital (SDH) programme provides flexible education for hospitalized children.
Started as a pilot project in 2013, the Buddy Club initiative aims to promote exchange and integration opportunities between learners with special needs and their peers through extracurricular activities such as sport.
As planned in the 2013–25 Education Blueprint, the Ministry of Education supports students with special education needs to attend the programmes most suitable for them. Learners who can cope with mainstream curricula and assessments are therefore encouraged to attend inclusive education programmes. Against this backdrop, 15 special education service centres (Pusat Perkhidmatan Pendidikan Khas) are expected to be accredited to provide support to learners with special education needs.
Early identification, screening and assessment
Before the adoption of the 2013 special education regulations, the 1997 regulations allowed only children who were able to study autonomously to benefit from SEIP, as established by a panel. Learners not eligible for special education programmes were entitled to attend community-based rehabilitation centres.
By contrast, the 2013 special education regulations allow all children with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities, to receive special education after the completion of a three-month probation period, during which the school evaluates whether the student is suitable for SEIP.
Registration of disability occurs on a voluntary basis. Initial detection is conducted by the Department of Social Welfare together with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. Since 2007, special education one-stop centres have provided free services for early intervention, rehabilitation and assistance.
A revision of the current system of assessment and intervention is planned. The 2013–25 Education Blueprint intends to strengthen the current system of identification and early intervention and to foster collaboration with the Ministry of Health to fast-track and formalize the process.
The 1957 Federal Constitution of Malaysia, as amended in 2009, prohibits any form of discrimination in education on the grounds of ‘religion, race, descent or place of birth’ (Art. 12.1) and denial of access to any public education institution (Art. 12.1[a]).
Providing equal access to and completion of primary education without discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, location and abilities was reaffirmed as an objective of the 2001–10 education development plan. Endorsing the 1994 Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education and based on international best practices, the Ministry of Education commits through the 2013–25 Education Blueprint to integrating more learners with special needs into the inclusive education programme.
In 2013, the government published the first draft of the guidelines for inclusion of students with special needs (Garis Panduan Program Pendidikan Inklusif Murid Berkeperluan Khas), followed in 2015 by the Handbook of Operations of the Special Education Integration Programme as a guide and reference for the State Education Department, the District Education Office and schools offering the integrated special education programme.
Policies and strategies for persons with disabilities are subsumed under two main social acts. Based on the four pillars of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 2001 Child Act provides the legal foundation for the progress on the rights of children in the country. The 2008 Persons with Disabilities Act lays down the right of people with disabilities to receive equal access to primary education and higher education in appropriate facilities. Besides the non-discrimination principle (28.1), public and private education providers are compelled to ensure ‘reasonable accommodation suitable with the requirements of persons and children with disabilities in terms of, among others, infrastructure, equipment and teaching materials, teaching methods, curricula and other forms of support’ (28.2).
In the education sector, the 1996 Education Act, amended in 2012, made primary education compulsory for every Malaysian child (Section 29), including children with disabilities (Art. 40). This is delivered as special education in special schools or designated schools. Revoking the 1997 regulations, the 2013 special education regulations officially eliminated the practice of assessing and identifying the child as educable and expanded the right to special needs education for children with disabilities.
Within this legal framework, the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities and the National Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities regulate access to education, while the National Policy for Children and Action Plan covers development, participation and advocacy.
Concerning implementation, a monthly allowance has been provided since 2009 to children with disabilities as incentive for their school attendance.
Following the First National Women’s Policy formulated in 1989, the 2009 National Policy for Women supports gender equality for the sustainable development of the country. The policy contains strategies covering 13 sectors, including education and training.
In the education sector, the 1996 Education Act, and subsequent revisions, does not contain reference to gender equality in the field of education. It has been clarified that pregnant teenage girls and teenage mothers are allowed to continue education, provided that they are under 18 years old. Data on girl brides and pregnant teenagers dropping out of school is not collected.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous groups
The 1957 Constitution enshrines the right to establish and maintain religious education provision for any religious group (Art. 12.2). Although it states that Malay is the national language, everyone has the right to use, teach and learn any language (Art. 152.1[a]) and the federal government and states benefit from the right to preserve and sustain the use and study of any languages of the community (Art. 152[b]). As stipulated in the 1996 Education Act, upon request of the parents of at least 15 pupils in a school, the Chinese or Tamil language must be made available as well as other indigenous languages if ‘reasonable and practicable’.
In response to the high dropout rates among indigenous learners, the Ministry of Education implemented the K9 Comprehensive Special Model School to encourage the retention of Orang Asli and the Penan students. The model consists in providing six years of primary and three years of lower secondary education at the same school and free accommodation to solve the issue of transportation. Through the 2013–25 Education Blueprint, the ministry commits to further expanding the number of schools implementing the K9 model and to constructing new residential facilities for indigenous learners.
Since 2012, the state has adopted the policy of free education. The 2003 National Nutrition Policy was developed to ensure the availability of safe and nutritious meals at school. Other financial support programmes include the Poor Student Trust Fund (Kumpulan Wang Amanah Pelajar Miskin); the Supplementary Food Programme, which provides both meals and allowances for school uniforms; and textbook provision.
With reference to early childhood education, the ministry’s intention is to extend access for children from economically or socially disadvantaged households and for those residing in remote and isolated areas through the provision of a daily meal grant.
In collaboration with the Social Welfare Department, the National Security Council and non-government organizations, the Ministry of Education has established a school programme for abandoned and street children providing them with education at all schooling levels. Alternative education programmes (AEPs) for street children, undocumented children and children of plantation workers are also provided by other organizations and government agencies to cater for the needs of hard-to-reach children and youths. Based on the national curriculum, AEPs deliver unconventional and more flexible education provision, operating, including financially, outside the regular education system.
Gifted and talented children
Identified through aptitude measures and mathematics and verbal assessments, gifted students are registered into specialized programmes at all education levels in the private and public sectors. Within the public sector, the PERMATA National Gifted Programme is one enrichment programme for students from Year 3 to Form 3. Dedicated residential schools are also provided.
Cooperation across sectors
The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development is responsible for the education of children with severe disabilities, while the Ministry of Education manages preschool education for children with special education needs, special education primary schools and SEIP in regular primary schools.
Since 2008, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has been leading the National Board of Advisory and Legislation for People with Disabilities (Majlis Penasihat dan Perundingan Kebangsaan Bagi). Consisting of eight permanent members from various ministries, non-government organizations and other related agencies, the committee acts as a national coordinating body with the goal of investigating and coordinating actions related to people with disabilities through multisectoral collaborative action plans.
In 2015, in line with the National Policy for Women and the Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women, the Women’s Advisory and Consultative Council was established, assisted by five working committees based on five strategic clusters, one of which focuses on education.
Cooperation across government levels
An increase in the autonomy of schools and the decentralization of the education decision-making process was prioritized in the 2001–10 education development plan. This shift has mainly occurred through the financial management of the education budget and the decentralization of curriculum and instruction areas.
The Education Blueprint reaffirmed the willingness to move towards a more decentralized system of operations, empowering state education departments and district education departments through greater control over budget and personnel and strengthened accountability.
Acknowledging the lack of disabled-friendly infrastructures and facilities, the Education Blueprint intends to review the state of existing schools and address eventual shortages to ensure conducive learning environments for learners with special education needs. The building of new educational institutions must take into account inclusive and universal building design, thus providing appropriate and adequate facilities for students with special needs.
In line with the 2013 special education regulations, a special education curriculum, also called an alternative curriculum, has been developed. Tailored curricula have also been designed for specific groups, such as blind learners, while one for students with learning disabilities, such as autism, has not yet been introduced. The Education Blueprint commits to providing flexible and relevant curricula.
A tailored contextualized curriculum has been developed for students belonging to the Orang Asli and Penan ethnic groups, taking into consideration the context of their surroundings and the community culture.
The Textbook Division of the Ministry of Education has drawn up guidelines to avoid discriminatory gender representation in the content, presentation and graphics of textbooks. Learning materials are expected to portray both sexes on an equal footing.
The 2013–25 Education Blueprint has planned to include an optional training module on special education needs teaching and curriculum development, focusing on specific pedagogical approaches, psychology and techniques, within in-service training programmes at the Teacher Education Division (Bahagian Pendidikan Guru) and the training institute for education management (Institut Aminuddin Baki). In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education was expected to establish a multidisciplinary group between 2016 and 2020 consisting of doctors, therapists and other specialists to train teachers in special education needs and to strengthen training on the implementation of individualized education programmes.
As part of the second phase of the plan to scale up initiatives on teacher training, the ministry commits to supporting and training school managers willing to implement inclusive education programmes. A comprehensive, intensive and continued training programme on education for learners with special needs has not yet been systematically provided to mainstream teachers. To address this issue, special education needs are planned to become a core subject of both the Institute of Teacher Education (Institut Pendidikan Guru) and the Institute of Higher Education (Institut Pengajian Tinggi) curricula.
In 2016, an Inclusive Pedagogy Implementation Guide was developed to assist mainstream teachers and special education teachers to include students with special education needs in inclusive classrooms, including information on types of disability, teaching and learning methods and support services.
With reference to indigeneity, the 2013–25 Education Blueprint intends to expand the recruitment of teachers and teacher assistants from indigenous communities, specifically the Orang Asli ethnic group, and to further promote indigenous education at five National Centres of Excellence for Indigenous Pedagogy.
Concerning gender education, the subject is included in the curriculum of graduate programmes at the Institute of Teacher Education, namely the Preparatory Course for Bachelor of Education programme and the Bachelor of Education programme.
The Education Service Commission provides annual education reports.
Data collection and database maintenance regarding children with disabilities are not consistent. These activities involve the Department of Social Welfare, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. Comprehensive and reliable statistics on the prevalence of disability in the population are lacking.