The 21st century is a century with many remarkable achievements for humankind — driverless vehicle, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and many, many more. However, we seem to be struggling with basic human decency to treat each other with respect and kindness. The need for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflected that. The rising conversation about inclusion certainly demonstrates the urgency for us to address the issue. But, where do we start?
We spoke to Anne Sivanathan, an inclusive education activist and special need educator, to understand her work and why she decided to join the Human Library and become a Human Book.
Anne has been working to promote inclusive education since her graduation in 1994. In 2016, she founded The Inclusive Outdoor Classroom with the objective to provide every child a full, developmentally appropriate inclusive experience. It was set up as a safe space for children with different abilities to interact with their neurotypical friends and vice versa.
“At The Inclusive Outdoor Classroom, we do not focus on just one particular special need. We have a mixture of children, such as those with down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, as well as the typically developing children coming together in one class,” said Anne as she explained further what her typical day looks like as an inclusive educator.
“You need to know who are coming for the class on that particular day. You want to make sure that the environment is conducive. For example, if someone is coming with a wheelchair, you need to make sure there is enough space for him or her to move around. Since we have a diverse group with children with different abilities, we have to do things differently. We need to have individual education plans for them and be creative in our teaching.”
Awareness, Understanding & Acceptance
Another reason Anne created The Inclusive Outdoor Classroom is to create awareness for Malaysians who have yet to understand the importance of special needs and inclusive education. They work with volunteers, particularly people with no direct link to special needs, with an aim to influence a change of mindset amongst a wider Malaysian public.
Inclusion is about involvement and empowerment. Anne believes only through action and direct contact with the cause that one can truly understand and accept the concept of inclusion; and this awareness needs to go beyond parents who have children with different abilities. That is also why Anne decided to become a human book to actively share her story with more people.
Inclusive Education for Malaysia
Malaysian Government has made a significant stride forward with the implementation of the Zero Reject Policy, which is to ensure that no special needs child is turned away from school. Anne, who has been advocating inclusive education for more than 20 years, certainly welcome this important milestone. However, she stressed that we also need to pay addition attention in training the teachers. The success of the Zero Reject Policy lies within teachers’ ability to support the learning of special needs children.
Raising an Empathetic Generation
We believe that to achieve the inclusion we all hope for, we need to start with our children’s education. Anne’s two neurotypical daughters, who are now 21 and 23 respectively, received inclusive education since pre-school. Their exposure has allowed them to be more empathetic compared to their peers. Many aspects of their lives, such as choosing a career path, are influenced by the early experience interacting with kids who were different from them.
Anne did emphasise that it was not a smooth journey for her daughters. They had a lot of questions when they were younger. She had to spent a lot of time educating them. Now, they can truly appreciate the effort.
Today, many parents are still rather reluctant to send their typically developing children to an inclusive classroom due to certain prejudice. However, Anne can understand why. Therefore, she is determined to educate more Malaysians about the importance and benefits of inclusive education through her work.
If you would like to volunteer and find out more about Anne’s The Inclusive Outdoor Classroom, please visit https://www.facebook.com/inclusiveoutdoorclass/
If you would like to become a Human Book and share your story, please contact Ralph Mpofu at [email protected]