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Special Needs Education for Children - Malaysian Overview

by on 25/04/2018 29042

Despite governments signing up to many a convention and seemingly supporting international guidelines on children with special needs, prejudices and exclusion still form part of everyday life for many children with special needs around the world. The principle of ‘inclusive education’ put forward at the UNESCO-convened Salamanca conference in 1994 has been a major step forward, but a lot remains to be done. 

What is Special Needs Education


In the context of the Salamanca conference, the term special ‘educational needs’ refers to all those children and youth whose needs arise from disabilities or learning difficulties. Many children experience learning difficulties and thus have special educational needs at some time during their schooling. It assumes that human differences are normal and that learning must accordingly be adapted to the needs of the child rather than the child fitted to preordained assumptions regarding the pace and nature of the learning process.


Experience in many countries demonstrates that the integration of children and youth with special educational needs is best achieved within inclusive schools that serve all children within a community. It is within this context that those with special educational needs can achieve the fullest educational progress and social integration. The fundamental principle of the inclusive school is that all children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or differences they may have.

We are all different


The situation regarding special needs education varies enormously from one country to another. There are, for example, countries that have well established systems of special schools for those with specific impairments. However, especially in developing countries, indications are that the high cost of special schools means, in practice, that only a small minority of students, usually an urban elite, benefit from them. The vast majority of students with special needs, especially in rural areas, are as a consequence provided with no services whatsoever. Indeed, in many developing countries, it is estimated that fewer than 1 per cent of children with special educational needs are included in existing provision.


It is also particularly important to recognize that women have often been doubly disadvantaged, bias based on gender compounding the difficulties caused by their disabilities. Women and men should have equal influence on the design of educational programmes and the same opportunities to benefit from them. Special efforts should be made to encourage the participation of girls and women with disabilities in educational programmes.

Malaysian perspective


Article 28 of Malaysia’s Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 affirms that special needs children are to be given the necessary support to “facilitate their full and equal participation in education”. Based on international best practices and current national policy, the Malaysian Ministry of Education is committed to moving more students with special needs towards the inclusive education programme and raising the overall quality of the provision. The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025 outlines the action plan for inclusive education in “Improving Access in Preschool Education: Inclusive Education Programme (IEP) Initiative”

Inclusive Education


Inclusive education means giving each and every child an opportunity to learn at their local school with enough support for them to reach their full potential. This does not require special institutions, care or expensive materials. It simply means that all students should have the opportunity to receive individualised services and approaches to learning. In Malaysia, the Ministry of Education provides children with disabilities with three schooling options under the national special needs education system:


Quick facts


Following are some quick facts and figures from a UNICEF report titled Inclusive Education, Malaysia dated June 2014 with data from Malaysia Educational Statistics 2012 (Quick Facts):


Special Education Schools


These are special schools for children with disabilities. There are currently 33 Special Education Schools

Primary Schools: 28

-     22 for children with hearing disabilities

-     5 for children with visual disabilities

-     1 for children with learning disabilities

Secondary schools: 5

-     3 vocational schools

-     1 academic school for children with visual disability

-     1 academic school for children with hearing disabilities


Special Education Integrated Programme (SEIP)


Specific classes in mainstream schools dedicated to children with special needs. There are currently just under 2,000 mainstream schools with SEIP.

-     Primary schools: 1,300

-     Secondary schools: 670


Inclusive Education Programme


Children with disabilities are integrated into mainstream classes

In 2010, the Ministry of Education enrolled 48,140 children with disabilities in these three programmes, representing around 1 per cent of the total student population in the national school system at the time. In the same year, the Ministry of Education estimated around 200,000 students with disabilities in the primary school population had gone unidentified; while some 23,000 children with disabilities were out of school.


The overall percentage of children with disabilities within the total student population in the national school system is around 1%. The number of children with disabilities enrolled in inclusive education programmes declined from 6,360 in 2010 to 562 in 2012. The 562 children with disabilities enrolled in the Inclusive Education Programme in mainstream classes in 2012 represents:

around 1% out of the 50,738 children with disabilities enrolled in special needs education in that year;

around 0.01% out of the 5,086,180 students (both with and without disabilities) who were enrolled in the national education system in that year.


Moving in the right direction


Listed below are data from the MOE which show that we are slowly moving in the right direction in terms of SEN students and inclusive education. But it also shows that a lot more can be done and needs to be done.


Special Needs Education in Malaysia (2017)

Students in Special Needs Education Programmes in Malaysia (2017)


Total SEN students


2,423 SEN students


61,933 SEN students

PPI (Full programme in mainstream only)

15,480 SEN students


79,836 SEN students



SPK – Sekolah Pendidikan Khas / Special Education School

PPKI – Program Pendidikan Khas Integrasi / Special Education Integration Programme

PPI – Program Pendidikan Inklusif / Inclusive Education Programme

SDH – Sekolah Dalam Hospital / Schools-in-Hospital

SI/SHG – Sekolah Integriti/Sekolah Henry Gurney /Integrity School/Henry Gurney School

3PK – Pusat Perkhidmatan Pendidikan Khas / Special Education Service Centre


Enrolment of Special Education Needs (SEN) Students in Inclusive Education Programme


SEN Students

SEN Students in IEP














2016 (August)




Hope for the future


Special needs education in Malaysia is quite a way off when compared to any of the more advanced nations in the world. However, as in all matters pertaining to an ever-evolving society, there is always room for advancement, room for improvement, being the optimist that I am. Inclusive education needs to be driven by strategic partnerships between diverse actors, including families and communities, local and national NGOs, international organisations and governments, and in particular organisations of people with disabilities, families and children with disabilities themselves. In short, all of us need to play our part. After all, we are all brothers and sisters of a common Mother – Earth. We need to be able to find closure. We need to be able to heal. We need to come together as one for the betterment of each other.