The Edition brings readers a dose of positive news over a cup of tea shared with inspirational folk doing all sorts of positive work in the Maldives.
It is another typical, brisk day in Aminiya School. The only sounds in the classroom are that of the class teacher’s voice as she explains the lesson for that session, occasionally mingling with the murmurs of students and scratching of pens on paper.
The routine is interrupted when another teacher, smiling, appears in the doorway. The class teacher inside the room needs no further explanation. A student excitedly stands up, the books she needs already in hand. She leaves with the other teacher, and the rest of the class goes back to the lesson.
The teacher is one of the specially trained educators from Aminiya School’s Inclusive Support Unit – more fondly known as “Dream” class – which aims to mainstream children with Special Educational Needs (SEN); and the student leaving the classroom is one of 133 pupils who currently benefit from this programme.
“We called it Dream to instil a positive feeling,” explained Mariyam Shathrath Shakir, the leading teacher of Aminiya’s Inclusive Support Unit (ISU), which received the Teaching Excellence Award in 2011 and Disability Award in 2016. “We wanted teachers and parents to have a positive perspective of our students and what we are doing."
Dream is a tenacious initiative that mainstreams students with special educational needs, while supporting them in specific areas where each child needs individual help. Shathrath explained that students who are initiated into the programme spend part of the school day in regular classes, before they are escorted to the Dream class with their designated educators. In the Dream class, each student receives one-on-one lessons from their teacher, focusing on whichever subject or skill they need extra assistance in.
Aminiya’s Dream class (ISU) was set up with the support of the Ministry of Education and National Institute for Education (NIE). While the ministry trains the teachers on the Dream team, NIE provides technical support to compile special education programmes for the children, which are implemented in the Dream class.
“We work very closely with regular teachers,” said Shathrath. “It’s a team effort between our [Dream] teachers and mainstream teachers."
This closely knitted working relationship includes sharing the Individualized Education Plans (IEP), which are prepared separately for each student with SEN, with the mainstream teachers every semester, to make them aware of the students’ progress and fields in which they need extra attention.
The Dream class also shares the IEPs with parents, and therapists in some cases where they are needed, in order to identify the areas in which the children need help and make changes accordingly to the children’s individualized plans.
"We do not encourage students to be diagnosed in order to start an intervention programme for those who are enrolled here. We have our own referral system,’’ said Shathrath.
“Without working together [with parents and teachers], without their full cooperation, we wouldn’t be able to see much progress in students."
Regarding the major aim of Dream class, Shathrath stressed the importance of mainstreaming children with special educational needs.
“We observe great improvements and progress in these children when they are able to learn and study with other kids,” she shared.
In addition to academic progress, she noted that children with SEN are able to develop important social and emotional skills such as learning to share and interact with others, improve their language abilities, pick up good manners and behaviour, and strengthen their own self-esteem and confidence, thanks to Dream.
This practice of inclusive education also provides children with special educational needs with equal opportunities to participate in all levels of competition in school, from inter-class matches to international challenges.
“It has a positive impact on the other children as well,” Shathrath continued. “They learn in various ways to respect differences, to accept them; and it changes their perspectives of their friends in a positive manner. This helps to create a positive learning environment for all kinds of learners."
The Dream team has been putting their all into raising awareness about special educational needs and inclusive education amongst the entire school community, from students and teachers, to the rest of the staff including janitors and security guards. These efforts included holding a colourful celebration on World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 this year.
“We have several students with autism in this programme. This year’s theme was 'Empowering Women and Girls with Autism’,” said Shathrath, sharing that Aminiya held a special ceremony with parents to celebrate the day. Minister of Education Aishath Shiham and Minister of Gender and Family Zenysha Shaheed Zaki had also participated in the celebration, and met with the students of Dream.
Shathrath expressed her heartfelt gratitude to all the support and assistance Aminiya’s Dream class has and continues to receive, from both in and out of the school.
“Aminiya has been educating students with Special Needs over the last few years,” she said. “Now we are strengthening the programme by making Inclusive Education more meaningful to all the students."
‘’I want to thank our Minister of Education Dr. Aishath Shiham, NIE Inclusive Education Unit, the school management, and the very hardworking mainstream teachers, parents and our Dream team for their valuable support. We also appreciate the teachers who worked here during the initial phase of this programme."
Shathrath went on to say, “I am amazed to see the progress of some of these students. Now we know that Inclusive Education is beneficial to all; as we go along, we overcome the challenges and we are learning so much. There is still so much work to do in order to provide more inclusive education for students with various learning needs."
Shedding light on their future targets, Shathrath revealed that the unit wishes to take their achievements further, such as successfully enrolling the older students in O’ Level examinations. The team is also working with a number of other schools to demonstrate how the Inclusive Support Unit works, hoping to surpass Aminiya’s boundaries and spread the Dream.