By: Nisa Nurmalani and Dr. Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat

Since at least 2002, the Indonesian government has been struggling with streaming the disabled, those at risk of dropping out of school and others with special needs into the education system. The issue has been given new importance by Surya Sahetapy, a telegenic celebrity who opened the Asian Games in 2018 and, deaf himself, has transformed himself into an advocate for inclusiveness, fighting extensively for the rights of the disabled, including pushing for the introduction of an Indonesian sign language for the deaf.

In 2002 the government officially started pilot projects in nine provinces in a bid to enroll students with disabilities. In 2017/2018, mainstreamed students numbered 128,510. But there are many problems. According to a 2018 research paper by Satrio Budi Wibowo and Juhri Abdul Muin distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons, source data is very limited.

“Several studies have been conducted to see the picture of implementation,” according to the paper. Too often, the authors write, “several schools limit themselves, they will only accept students with special needs in a certain amount due to limited school resources.”

Some inclusive schools, they say, don’t have Individual Educational Programs (IEP) for students with special needs and too often they lack specialized teachers who have expertise in special needs education. Many learners with disorders or special education needs have been unable to enroll in schools close to their homes because not all public schools accept the existence of children with disabilities or special educational needs. 

Today in Indonesia, only five provinces have identified themselves as providing inclusive education, including DKI Jakarta, Nangroe Aceh Darusalam, South Kalimantan, South Sumatra, and West Java with a declaration of commitment to fight for optimal inclusive education in the system.

To enable the school systems to provide inclusive education, components are required including infrastructure, specialized human resources and qualified teachers, focused learning services and other matters. In West Java, for example, a region of 46.7 million people, only five cities have declared themselves to be inclusive cities or districts. That number is minuscule seen compared to the entire number of  regions in Indonesia, even though this concept was initiated in the country as long ago as 1986 in the integrated education system, which was outlined in a decree of the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Although the system at that time was hardly adequate to achieve the ideal concept of inclusion in integrated education, children with disabilities were placed in public schools and obliged to adjust to the school system. Today, when we have begun to realize the real meaning of inclusiveness, it is important increase efforts to pursue the implementation or optimization of the concept.

Schools already deemed as inclusive certainly have more obligations. Provision of components is assisted by the government or related agencies so that implementation is easier and directed. Schools that haven’t yet designed their curricula and systems for inclusiveness, which are in danger of falling behind and failing their special needs students. 

Certainly, studies have found, the participation of students with special needs in public schools actually has a positive effect on the environment and the school community, according to the study by Juhri and Muin, which pointed out that even students with autism disorders have surmounted their disabilities to win various national championships. “Thus, they write, “students who at first met with resistance from school teachers can be a school’s pride.” Children with physical disabilities are able to develop good relationships with their classmates and to empower students without physical problems to accept differences and develop empathy towards the disabled. ”When students learn to accept differences in school, then they can apply that experience in social activities in the community,” the authors write.

Some schools already have a positive view of inclusive education and accept children with special needs, with initial capital in the form of the principle of serving with the heart and educating with the love of educators in this school to serve every type of child who can still be educated.  But there are still many difficulties in infrastructure, funds, qualified human resources, and consultants with broad overall responsibility. Coordination with related agencies is still difficult because there is no place and service for inclusive education.

These difficulties have turned out to be a threat to the age of inclusive education in these schools. When schools feel burdened because the children enrolled are increasingly diverse and difficulties remain unresolved, many schools reduce or even no longer accept children with special needs.

This certainly has an impact on children who are not adequately served by education even though they can still find other educational alternatives, but when these problems occur, more and more children cannot be optimized to obtain proper educations.

The road ahead

Schools in Indonesia also need to do more, including inviting more professionals to add insight or as school partners even though this may be constrained by a variety of obstacles such as adequate finance. They also have to be proactive in coordinating with related agencies as an effort to fight for education for every child. Efforts carried out are processes for the purpose of better education, however small the effort.

Nisa Nurmalani and Dr. Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat write regularly about social issues in Indonesia.