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Inclusive Education in Malaysia: Policy and


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Inclusive education in Malaysia: policy


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Zalizan M. Jelas & Manisah Mohd Ali
a
Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi,
Selangor, Malaysia
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International Journal of Inclusive Education, 2014
Vol. 18, No. 10, 991 1003, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2012.693398

Inclusive education in Malaysia: policy and practice


Zalizan M. Jelas and Manisah Mohd Ali

Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia


(Received 7 May 2009; final version received 28 July 2010)

Malaysias move towards inclusion was given impetus by its participation in


workshops and conferences set up under the auspices of the United Nations
(UNESCO 1990; UN 1993; UNESCO 1994). Inclusive education was introduced
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in the Education Act 1996 as part of the continuum of services available


for children with special needs. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the
interpretation of policy pertaining to inclusion, its contradictions and its
translation into practice within the Malaysian context; and to share experiences
on how the national context explains and constrains inclusive practices. This
paper examines the problematic issues associated with the interpretation and
implementation of inclusive practices at community and school levels. Barriers
to inclusion are also discussed from the perspective of conceptualisation and
meaning of special educational needs and competing priorities of the school
system.
Keywords: inclusive education; policy; implementation

Introduction
In line with the global trend towards inclusive education, Malaysia officially began
its efforts to include students with special needs in mainstream education through its
involvement in workshops and activities initiated by the United Nations (UN) and
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Stan-
dards of several UN policies affirm the right of all children to equal education
without discrimination within the mainstream education system. These include the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the UN Standard Rules on the
Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993), the UNESCO
Salamanca Statement (1994) and the UNESCAP Biwako Millennium Framework
(2002). The Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice in Special
Needs
Education (UNESCO 1994) has stressed the importance to develop national
capacities for policy-making and systems management in support of inclusive edu-
cation and the need to address equal educational opportunity and access to all children
including those with special educational needs (SENs). Subsequently, inclusive
education was introduced in the Malaysian Education Act 1996 (1998) together with
provisions for children with learning difficulties. Although huge strides have been
taken in the provisions and allocations for special needs education in Malaysia, inclus-
ive education seems elusive to many children who need it.


Corresponding author. Email: zmj@ukm.my

# 2012 Taylor & Francis


992 Z.M. Jelas and M. Mohd

The purpose of this article is to examine and analyse the current policy and practices
pertaining to inclusive education within the parallel system of general and special edu-
cation, and to share experiences on how the national context explains and constrains
inclusive practices. Concepts and principles in inclusive education will be discussed
against the backdrop of Malaysian general education system and school culture.
Inclusive education as a concept originated from the special education agenda as
defined in the Education Act 1996 (1998) and its approach is referred to this tradition.
The discussion begins with an introduction to the development of special needs
education as a discipline and as a profession in Malaysia, and its influence on the devel-
opment of policy and practice towards inclusive education.

The evolutionary phases of special needs education


The history of special needs education in Malaysia parallels developments seen in
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other helping professions in developing countries worldwide (Azuma 1984).


Foreign experts are initially relied upon to provide the knowledge and to encourage
its development prior to the emergence of a profession within a country. The first
professionals to provide services are usually trained abroad. The second stage fol-
lowing this first stage sees colleges and universities establishing programmes and
departments to teach the discipline and prepare the professionals. The third stage
is when colleges and universities import knowledge from abroad to achieve stan-
dards that characterise the discipline in more developed nations. During this stage,
the concepts, theories and models of implementation found in the more developed
countries are taught, applied and tested; some of which may transfer more success-
fully than others.
The fourth stage sees research initiated in the country to develop the concepts, the-
ories, practices and technologies essential to enhancing practice. The fifth and last stage
is reached when this new body of knowledge developed in one country is integrated
into the larger body of knowledge available internationally. As professions and disci-
plines of knowledge evolve from one stage to the next, they gain strength and
improve qualities associated with the earlier stages of development.
Malaysia embarked on the first stage when the first school for the blind was opened
in 1929, followed by a school for the deaf very much later in 1954. These schools were
initiated under the programme of the Ministry of Social Welfare with the help of reli-
gious missionaries. Malaysia entered its second stage when professional preparation
programmes for special education were formally established by the Ministry of Edu-
cation (MOE) in 1961. Lacking its own expertise and technology, Malaysia entered
its third stage when it began importing knowledge and expertise by sending its edu-
cation professionals abroad for research degrees and in-service attachments in special
needs education in the 1980s and 1990s, and attempting to customise what was
learned to its national conditions. Malaysias participation in international workshops
and activities of the UN and UNESCO and subsequent reforms as reflected in the
Education Act 1996 (1998) describes the active development of policy and changes
in practices during this period.
In 1993, the first pre-service teacher preparation leading to a Bachelor of Education
degree programme in special needs education was initiated in Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia. The programme was developed alongside a collaborative project in curricu-
lum development with three universities in the UK, namely, the Universities of
Manchester, Birmingham and Cambridge (Jelas 1996, 1999).
International Journal of Inclusive Education 993

Special needs education in Malaysia is currently in its fourth stage with research
being initiated in the local universities with funding from the government to indigen-
ise special needs education as a discipline. The establishment of research degree pro-
grammes in special needs education has generated interest among students and
academics, and attempts to integrate local knowledge with the larger body of inter-
national knowledge have started (Ali, Mustapha, and Jelas 2006; Azman, Ali, and
Jelas 2003; Jelas, 1996, 1999, 2000a).

Development of policy: a force for or against inclusion


Education for children and youth with special needs is provided by two government
agencies: The MOE and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development
(MWFCD). The MWFCD through its Welfare Department provides learning and skills
training services for children and youths with (i) severe physical disabilities, (ii) severe
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and profound intellectual disabilities; and (iii) multiple disabilities. These learning and
skills training services are implemented in collaboration with non-governmental bodies
and community-based rehabilitation (CBR) centres.
The Special Education Department of the MOE is responsible for coordinating all
special education programmes in regular schools and the administration of all special
education schools which cater only to students with hearing and visual impairments.
Children who are identified with (i) Downs syndrome, (ii) mild autism, (iii) develop-
mental delays, (iv) attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, and (v) specific learning
disabilities are placed in self-contained special classes in the Learning Disabilities
Programmes in regular schools.
The terms pupils with special needs and special education programme intro-
duced in the Education Act 1996 (1998, 341) are defined as follows:

Pupils with special needs means pupils with visual impairment or hearing impairment or
with learning disabilities
Special education programme means

(1) A programme which is provided in special schools for pupils with visual
impairment or hearing impairment;
(2) An integrated programme in general schools for pupils with visual impairment
or hearing impairment or with learning disabilities; and
(3) An inclusive education programme for pupils with special needs and who are
able to attend normal classes together with normal pupils

The term inclusive education is introduced in the Act as part of the continuum of
services available for children with special needs. However, the eligibility for special
education placement is based on the educability of children as assessed by a team
of professionals. This is documented in the Act (1998, 342), which states:

(1) For government and government-aided schools, pupils with special needs who
are educable are eligible to attend the special education programme except for
the following pupils:
(a) physically handicapped pupils with the mental ability to learn like normal
pupils; and
994 Z.M. Jelas and M. Mohd

(b) pupils with multiple disabilities or with profound physical handicap or


severe mental retardation.
(2) A pupil with special needs is educable if he is able to manage himself without
help and is confirmed by a panel consisting of a medical practitioner, an officer
from the MOE and an officer from the Welfare Department of the MWFCD, as
capable of undergoing the national educational programme.

The eligibility dilemma


A number of issues and contradictions arise when we analyse policies that explicitly
state a criterion for eligibility. While the current public policy for children with
SENs, particularly those categories of children classified as experiencing learning dis-
abilities have access to regular schools as stated in the Act, the educability criterion
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contradicts the goals of providing equal education opportunities as stipulated in the


UNs Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabil-
ities (1993), the Salamanca Statement (1994) and the Biwako Millennium Framework
for Action (UNESCAP 2002).
These mandates are intended to promote equal rights and access to education for
persons with disabilities. The educability criterion assumes that there are children
who are uneducable within the public school system, and thus these children are
catered to within CBR settings (MOE 2006a). CBR programmes are government-
initiated, centre-based programmes at the community level aimed to provide education
that emphasises therapy and rehabilitation to children with learning disabilities (Kuno
2000). CBR programmes are quite detached from the mainstream school system.
However, in practice, the division between both provisions is less definite, and students
who should benefit from them become victims of bureaucratic procedures (Adnan and
Hafiz 2001). According to Adnan and Hafiz (2001), the application for diagnosis and
case work procedures is a lengthy and arduous process that requires examinations
from various medical experts to testify the validity of a claim. Even if they are able
to gain confirmation of the disability, it does not mean that a child is automatically
eligible for educational provisions.
Deciding on whether a student does or does not have a SEN, or whether a student is
educable or not poses a major problem. Before special programmes were available,
students with special needs were described by their characteristics and by the instruc-
tional challenges that they presented to teachers. When the education system began to
respond to the needs of each emerging group of special needs students, services were
established and eligibility criteria determined. From that point onwards, if a child was
identified (for school and placement purposes) as having or experiencing a special
educational need and if he or she is able to manage him or herself without help
(Education Act 1996, 1998), the child would be eligible for a given programme or
service. This process was repeated as each new group of special needs students
emerged, for example, children with visual and hearing impairments in the 1960s,
children with mild intellectual disabilities in the 1980s and 1990s and, more recently,
children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and children with dyslexia.
Thus, it is regulated in the Education Act 1996 (1998) that the perspectives of pro-
fessionals, a medical practitioner, an officer from the MOE and an officer from the
Welfare Department of the MWFCD (342), have the most power in determining the
way children are categorised and whether these children are capable of undergoing
International Journal of Inclusive Education 995

the national educational programme (Education Act 1996, 1998). Policy-makers and
professionals continue to see special schools and classes as well as categories as
having an important place in provisions. Responses at the Ministerial level revealed
that learning difficulties are technical problems that require specialised discipline
knowledge that cannot be dealt with in the normal classes with normal children (Edu-
cation Act 1996, 1998, 341). In this context, the MOE sees segregation as the right to be
educated in a separate environment from the mainstream and inclusion is implemented
on the principle that integrate and include children with special needs where possible,
and retain the right to segregate where necessary (Booth and Ainscow 1998).
Within the Malaysian context, the belief that the child must be educable to be eli-
gible for placement in a mainstream school reflects a rigid and narrow interpretation of
the concept of inclusion. This requirement reinforces what Peters (2004) referred to as
the continuum of placements paradigm; where inclusion is conceptualised as a place
that one needs to be eligible and not as a service delivered. Such a narrow and limited
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interpretation results in the school system practising exclusionary practices. Jelas


(2000b) summarised the interpretation of the process of inclusion in the Malaysian
context in Figure 1. The true meaning of equal rights and access is still evolving in
the Malaysian context, as policy-makers and schools put into practice their interpret-
ation of what they perceive those rights to be.

Rationalising exclusion
While the literature on inclusive education would be in agreement over the basic
philosophical stance of inclusion as it relates to issues of social justice and equity of
educational opportunities, its interpretation and translation into practice remains
unclear in Malaysia. The National Report on the development of education states:

Inclusion in Malaysia subscribed to the concept of placing SEN students into mainstream
classes to be educated alongside their peers, either with or without additional support, and
within the present school system. This concept of IE (inclusive education) might not be in
line with the ideal concept based on acceptance, belonging and about providing school
settings in which all disadvantaged children can be valued equally and be provided
with equal educational opportunities. (MOE 2004, 28)

While the philosophical basis of including SEN students into mainstream schools is
accepted as a policy, the continued legitimisation of paradigms that exclude SEN stu-
dents is also acknowledged by rationalising between the ideal and the not-so-ideal
concept of inclusive education. This ambivalence is reinforced by the following
statements:

Prior to inclusion, especially in the early part of their formal education, SEN students are
equipped with relevant basic skills and knowledge to enable them to cope with main-
stream learning. Only those who are diagnosed capable to cope with mainstream learning
would be included fully or partially. (MOE 2004, 29)

The emphasis on the ability to cope with mainstream learning seems consistent
with the integration models that came about in the 1980s. Integration models mainly
focused on placing students with mild disabilities, identified and diagnosed as
having special needs in mainstream schools. In such models, students must adapt to
the norms, expectations, styles, routines and practices of the education system
996 Z.M. Jelas and M. Mohd
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Figure 1. Inclusion: its interpretation in the Malaysian context.

instead of the education system adapting to the learner (UNESCO 2008). The integrated
programme is the dominant format for delivering services to special needs students in
Malaysia, then and now. Students are typically referred to a medical practitioner to
determine their eligibility and to confirm their disability, and if they met the eligibility
criterion, they are placed in a special class in a regular school. Once placed, few special
education students return to the regular education class on full-time basis. Although the
special classroom and special schools continue as options, integrated programmes
International Journal of Inclusive Education 997

(placement in regular classrooms) for students with visual and hearing impairments are
available with support from the resource teacher. Within this model, students are
pulled out for part-time placement in resource rooms, or a special education teacher
comes to the regular education classroom to provide remedial assistance to the
student or to assist the classroom teacher.
By the mid-1980s special education in the developed countries, specifically in the
USA and UK, no longer relied on segregated special classes to serve students with
SEN. Historically, the disenchantment of many special educators and the concern of
the efficacy of the prevailing approach (Ainscow 1994; Skrtic 1995; Sorrells, Rieth,
and Sindelar 2004; Stainback and Stainback 1992) raised questions about how best
to assure a quality and equitable education for students with disabilities and spawned
the push for a more inclusive approach to special education programming. While
these reforms were mandated in the UNs Declarations and UNESCOs Framework
of Actions on special needs education to which Malaysias policy on inclusive edu-
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cation subscribes, the focus on diagnosis, prescription, and intervention continues to


be central to determining eligibility and making placement decisions. Thus, although
special education practices have changed, the grounding assumptions of human path-
ology and organisational rationality (Biklen 2000; Oliver 1996; Skrtic 1991) have
not been critically examined. In this context, special education is used to maintain
and legitimise exclusion of students with disabilities within a school culture and
system characterised by competition and selection (Corbett 1999; Kearney and Kane
2006; Skrtic 1995; Slee 2001). Inclusive education in Malaysia is seen as problematic;
educators and policy-makers have serious reservations about the widespread placement
of SEN students in mainstream schools because of competing priorities within the
school system. The pathway to inclusion is fraught with foundational assumptions
that support exclusionary processes and practices.

Challenges in policy and practice


Even though inclusive education was implemented at the policy level more than 10
years ago and school participation of students with special needs has rapidly increased,
Malaysia is far from reaching its goal of providing a responsive education path for
every child and youth with SEN (MOE 2004). In its interpretation and implementation
of inclusive education, Malaysia has actually veered towards exclusionary processes
and practices by default. Policy statements and procedural processes and requirements
that are seen as safeguarding the normality of the school population (Slee 1996, 25),
and that which rest on the basic philosophy of exclusion and segregation as the best way
to educate students with disabilities will obviously make inclusion efforts very difficult
and counterproductive. Therefore, the challenges to inclusive education are premised
upon foundational beliefs that support these exclusionary processes and practices.
These beliefs are somewhat enshrined in particular policies that regulate where students
with SEN go.

The acceptance that all children can learn and have a right to education
Malaysians in general and educators specifically need to acknowledge that inclusive
education is part of the human rights agenda that argues that all children, irrespective
of their characteristics, can learn and have access to education. Although special edu-
cation is seen as a right and as an access to education, school exclusion of children who
998 Z.M. Jelas and M. Mohd

do not meet the eligibility criterion is made legal and therefore, not the responsibility of
the MOE. Labelling children who do not meet the criterion for placement in schools as
uneducable and denying them the opportunity to education would be an irony of the
education system.
The belief that all children can learn is not honoured in educational policy and prac-
tice. Under these circumstances, they who have the greatest need for education are the
least likely to receive it. Further, denying these children of the opportunity to learn
within the mainstream school system is a violation of the childs basic rights (UN
1989; UN 1993). The question of whether all children with disabilities have an unqua-
lified right to the education system must be addressed. Opportunities for schooling
should be extended to all disabled children by creating learning environments which
foster constructive interaction and participation, as well as modifying curriculum and
teaching strategies to accommodate their learning needs.
In principle, Malaysia is purportedly committed to providing education for all with
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the implementation of compulsory education in 2003, as evident by a high participation


rate of 98.49% (MOE 2004). This statement of intent towards compulsory education for
all which was an amendment of the Education Act 1996 (1998), however, did not expli-
citly state the inclusion of children with disabilities:

In 2002, the Education Act 1996 was amended and the compulsory education took effect
in 2003. This policy ensures that every child in Malaysia beginning at age six, regardless
of sex, social and economic background, and residential locality has the right to primary
education. Accordingly, every Malaysian parent must ensure that their child has access to
primary education when the child reaches the age of six or on the first day of the current
school year when the child would be six years old. (MOE 2004, 4)

International mandates have declared that education is a basic right for all children
and have called for the inclusion of all children in primary education by 2015
(UNESCAP 2002). Malaysia needs to include disability dimensions in all new and
existing laws, policy plans, programmes and schemes. In this context, there is a need
to strengthen its national capacity in data collection and analysis concerning disability
statistics to support policy formulation and programme implementation. The exclusion
of children and youth with disabilities from the broader framework of education results
in their being deprived from further opportunities, thereby diminishing their access to
vocational training, employment, and preventing them from achieving economic and
social independence. This increases their vulnerability to marginalisation in what can
become a self-perpetuating, inter-generational cycle.

Conceptualisation of SENs
The current interpretation of SENs in Malaysia emanates from a traditional special edu-
cation framework and knowledge base that emphasise the pathological/medical model
of special needs (Skrtic 1991). The continued emphasis on explaining educational dif-
ficulties in terms of child-centered characteristics has the effect of preventing progress
in creating policies and provisions for SEN students. Dyson (1990, 601) aptly sum-
marises the argument by saying:

The fact remains that the education system as a whole, and the vast majority of institutions
and teachers within it, are approaching the twenty-first century with a view of special
needs the same as that with which their counterparts approached the present century.
International Journal of Inclusive Education 999

That view, for all its avowed concern for the individual child, promotes injustice on a
massive scale. It demands to be changed.

The radical perspective that leads to a reconceptualisation of SENs has been well
documented for the past 20 years (Ainscow 1991; Barton 1988; Clark, Dyson, and Mill-
ward 1998; Donoghue 2003; Fuchs and Fuchs 1994; Lipsky and Gartner 1989), and
critics have argued and showed evidence how the education system creates rather
than remediate disabilities (Carrington and Robinson 2006; Corbett 1999; Skrtic
1991; Vlachou 2004). The new perspective on SENs is based on the view that the
way forward must be to reform schools in ways that will make them respond positively
to pupil diversity, seeing individual differences as something to be nurtured. But, as
cautioned by Ainscow (1994, 12):

This kind of approach is only possible in schools where there exist a respect for indivi-
duality and a culture of collaboration that encourages and supports problem-solving.
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Such cultures are likely to facilitate the learning of all pupils and, alongside them, the pro-
fessional learning of all teachers. Ultimately, therefore, this line of argument makes the
case that increasing equity is the key to improvements in schooling for all.

The assessment of the characteristics of the child and the childs total environment
calls for methods of assessment that build on the positive qualities while recognising
areas of weaknesses. The interactionist perspective (Cline 1992) adopts an ecological
approach which recognises that features of the learning context, such as the curriculum,
the teaching process, the management of the classroom and other variables, as essential
factors that influence learning. By accepting the interactionist approach to special
needs, Malaysian educators would be able to look at the learning needs of students
and how school policies, culture and practices enable or disable, not only students
with disabilities, but all students. In identifying educational needs, Noddings (2005,
147) emphasises that it is crucial for educators to balance the inferred needs and
the expressed needs of all students, in saying that by ignoring expressed needs, we
sacrifice opportunities to develop individual talents, intrinsic motivation, and the joys
of learning.
School curriculum is usually supported by the assumption that educators and
policy-makers know what children need, and the curriculum is designed to satisfy
these inferred needs. In trying to meet inferred needs, teachers, however, often
neglect the expressed needs of students. Most teachers fear that expressed needs are
mere momentary desires, and that they should be curbed and replaced by the important
needs that have been identified through the curriculum. The human side of education is
more than just an ethics of justice issue but an ethics of care which is needs-based. This
is of particular importance because it is this grounding principle of care that creates
understandings, values, and beliefs that formulate policies and subsequently the
practices.

The culture of elitism


Education in Malaysia is driven largely by an examination-oriented system (MOE
2006b) characterised by curriculum rigidity and the pressure to do well in examinations
(Hamzah 2007). Similar to schools in Singapore (Lim and Tan 1999) and Hong Kong
(Poon-McBrayer 2004), schools in Malaysia are pressured to compete for the best
examination results in terms of percentages of passes and the number of distinctions
1000 Z.M. Jelas and M. Mohd

(As) acquired by students in public school examinations. This competitiveness has


resulted in students enrolling or taking as many subjects they can in the Malaysian
Certificate of Education with the expectations of getting the highest number of As as
possible.
The culture of elitism compels parents to prepare their children to be accepted into
high ranking or fully residential schools which usually achieve high scores in examin-
ation results. The introduction of the Tuition Voucher Scheme (MOE 2004) for students
in Years 4, 5 and 6 with poor academic performance exemplifies the need for students
to perform academically in the Year 6 Open Certification Examinations. Within the
School Cluster Programme (MOE 2007), schools are encouraged to compete in striving
for excellence and to be a cluster school that promises, among other things, a special
status.
To be eligible for selection, schools need to fulfil two requirements: (i) to be certi-
fied excellent by the Malaysian Education Quality Standards and (ii) maintain excellent
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examination results across 3 consecutive years at the Primary School Assessment, the
Lower Secondary School Assessment and the end of school Open Certificate Examin-
ation. The emphasis on the preparation and drill for the public examinations has left
little or no time for teachers to accommodate individual learning needs of students in
general. Media reports on schools and students performance intensify competition
and further marginalise SEN students, who, to a large extent, are not expected to
compete. Competing priorities make it more difficult for schools to fully include chil-
dren with SEN.

Conclusion opportunities for change


In this paper, it is argued that the current policy and practice towards inclusive edu-
cation for SEN students are exclusionary and discriminatory. The narrow interpretation
of the concept of special needs and inclusive education and competing priorities
within the education system have led to problematic issues in the implementation of
inclusive practices within mainstream school contexts such as the erection of barriers
to fully include SEN students.
It is apparent that Malaysia needs to improve its effectiveness at both the policy for-
mulation and the implementation levels. The new People with Disabilities Act 2008
(MWFCD 2008) recently passed in Parliament creates new hopes. The Act is a new
milestone since it specifically addresses the rights of persons with disabilities within
a multi-sectoral and inter-ministerial approach. A multi-sectoral approach is needed
for an overall improvement of the quality of life and human development from an
early age. While it is specifically stated in the Act that no disabled person should be
denied access to education, it is imperative that the MOE takes the ownership of the
education of children with disabilities at all levels and works in tandem with other min-
istries and sectors in order to realise this objective. Unfortunately, such a goal is often
fragmented due to the bureaucratisation of such policy and the lack of coordination of
policy objectives and programmes (Adnan and Hafiz 2001). However, with a strong
political will accompanied by appropriate and sustained efforts and resources on a
long-term basis, a systemic educational reform that protects the right to a quality edu-
cation of the entire population, instead of only the demands of particular groups, is not
impossible.
Continued advancement of inclusive education for SEN students in Malaysia will
require bifocal perspectives. The first perspective, viewed through the achievements
International Journal of Inclusive Education 1001

attained by other countries, may identify as viable goals the extension of services to stu-
dents with learning difficulties, inclusion, garnering additional political support for
special needs education through parent advocacy and supporting the further employ-
ment of people with disabilities. Current policies should be revised to see their rel-
evance and adaptation to a more refined approach and scope of the concept of
inclusive education as promoted by international mandates. It is important to under-
stand that inclusive education implies not only a reform of special schools and
special needs education but also of mainstream schools.
The second perspective takes on a narrower view that the effectiveness of special
needs education services requires a greater awareness of and the ability to work with the
social, cultural and educational traditions and philosophies that are indigenous to local
school cultures and the larger society. This perspective enables the evolution of special
needs education services that reflect the unique needs and characteristics of Malaysians.
This perspective can also allow Malaysians to be aware of and receptive to the inter-
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national body of literature and trends in practice that enables them to take advantage
of the knowledge and experience gained by those in other countries. Malaysia may
also profit especially from knowledge provided by its Asian neighbours, namely,
Japan, India and China or other countries that seem to be struggling with many
similar issues.
However, a more narrow focus on issues directly important to Malaysia is likely to
clarify more viable future directions for SEN students in Malaysia. At the national and
local levels, public awareness and acceptance of the ideas of equal opportunities for all
children need to be strengthened through the media and websites of educational and
social institutions. At the same time, efforts should focus on changing negative attitudes
towards excluded and marginalised groups by eradicating myths and misconceptions
associated with disabilities and with special needs.

Notes on contributors
Zalizan M. Jelas is a professor of Special Needs/Inclusive Education, Faculty of Education,
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Her research interests include policy and practices of inclusive
education, the social construction of special needs and its application in building an inclusive
learning environment in the schools.
Manisah Mohd Ali is an associate professor of Special Needs Education, Faculty of Education,
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Her research interests include reading difficulties, and inclus-
ive curriculum and pedagogy.

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