Adi Renaldi (The Jakarta Post)
Mon 22 February 2021
Second-grader Felisa Dewi Kirana knows what she wants when she grows up.
The 9-year-old, born with hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy, loves to run and play in her schoolyard with her friends, and she is good at arts and crafts.
Over the past eight years, Felisa has had to undergo several motor therapies including balance and concentration training. Prior to that, Felisa was mostly bedridden, as her legs were almost paralyzed, but over the past two years, thanks to consistent physiotherapy, her motor skills have improved dramatically.
Felisa, a student at Sendangadi Inclusive Elementary School in Sleman, Yogyakarta, can write long sentences. Her speech is clear and she has a great curiosity for the things that interest her.
But the pandemic has taken its toll on her.
“She enjoys socializing with her friends,” said Felisa’s mother, Heni Setiyani. “She would be so impatient when it was time to go to school. Now the pandemic has turned everything upside down. “
As the pandemic has forced schools to close since April last year, home learning has become the new reality for students. Heni noticed how lethargic and less enthusiastic Felisa became. She had become more dependent on her parents and was not interested in any subject, said Heni.
“She just doesn’t like studying at home,” Heni told the Post, “either because her teacher only sends homework through a WhatsApp group or because she feels like playing with her friends. Most of his days lack meaningful activities.
Heni said that during the home learning phase, there were no teaching-learning activities on the Zoom app. Instead, the teachers would only send him instructions on what to learn next.
“Then the teachers would tell us to do homework or homework to send in the next day,” Heni said. “In the end, I was the one who did the homework.”
Study outside the box
Nina Ariyanti, 55, says the pandemic has forced her to think outside the box when it comes to helping her daughter learn. Her daughter, Kalya Gupita Darujati, born with cerebral palsy, loves seeing colorful and bright pictures and enjoys playing with her friends.
Now Nina has to come up with her own interactive teaching activities, as the teachers at Kalya’s school rarely interact with the students.
“Just homework and homework,” Nina said. “So I printed pictures and made posters for her. And then we would go through each picture and I had to explain it. She seems to enjoy it.
Kalya is said to undergo physiotherapy twice a week before the pandemic in sessions that include speech and balance therapy, but as many therapy centers have closed during the pandemic, Nina must hire a personal in-home therapist.
“She enjoys listening to music and dancing,” said Nina. “But now she spends her days in bed.”
Children with special needs had been left behind long before the pandemic, according to Dr Joko Yuwono, an education expert for children with special needs at Sebelas Maret University in Surakarta. The pandemic has plunged them even deeper into a state of uncertainty.
“Compared to other students, children with special needs are particularly affected by the pandemic,” Joko said. “Because they need special attention and different teaching methods, depending on their conditions. Now their access to education and other necessities is limited, and no one is prepared for it.
According to 2017 data from Statistics Indonesia (BPS), there are 1.6 million children with special needs. About 70 percent of them do not receive an appropriate education, whether in an inclusive school or a school for the disabled (SLB).
Double parental duty
The government has published the Learn-From-Home guide for teachers, but how to implement the methods remains uncertain. Based on the guide, according to Joko, teachers should conduct home visits for children with special needs to monitor, assess and coordinate with parents to design an appropriate learning process.
But because special education lacked resources and infrastructure, as well as a standardized curriculum, each inclusive and special school has its own methods, Joko explained.
“At the end of the day, parents have to double down as teachers,” Joko said. “I know it’s not an easy task to do among other tasks, but it’s the best we can do for the kids. We cannot depend entirely on teachers at this time, because the most important thing is to teach children to be independent. “
Reny Indrawati, founder of the Forum for Family of Cerebral Palsy (WKCP), said that while every child with special needs is different, a standardized teaching method will not work. Instead, she encourages teachers to identify and modify their methods to suit each child’s conditions.
“Teachers need to be more creative,” Reny told The Post. “Whatever their condition, every child with special needs has the right to receive information and appropriate education. “
While Heni fears her daughter’s condition may regress during the pandemic, Felisa is still a spirited and curious 9-year-old girl. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she happily replied, “I want to be a doctor.
She knows what she wants and she’s working on it.