(File pix) A father and son who had just completed the Walk of Hope in Taman Tasik Titiwangsa organised by the Down Syndrome Association of Malaysia. Every child should be viewed as someone who is brimming with talent and unique skills that are waiting to be tapped into.

IN light of the discussions on the 2050 National Transformation (TN50), I was caught off guard when a friend asked me what I had envisioned for Malaysia by 2050. What a loaded question, I thought.

In case you don’t already know, TN50 is a new “vision” for Malaysia which seeks to transform the country’s economy, citizen wellbeing, environment, technology, social interaction, governance and public administration.

I vetted through every platform on the Internet to see what other people’s visions for Malaysia by 2050 were.

One lady was keen on seeing Malaysia establish a strong reading culture, while one gentleman said he wanted Malaysians to sustain, if not further strengthen, the bonds we have with each other despite our differences.

My voice certainly isn’t representative of the entire Malaysian youth, this I know, but one thing remains undisputable: every young Malaysian wants a bright future for themselves and their country.

So, what do I want for Malaysia by 2050? I want a Malaysia where students with learning disabilities or mental illness can receive the support they need from their schools so that their academic progress is not hindered.

Although I acknowledge that students with physical disabilities face their fair share of challenges, too, physical impairments often require far less explanations to comprehend, whereas a condition that is not visible to the eye makes it more difficult to understand and empathise with.

Furthermore, a disorder that affects a student’s cognitive abilities is going to make it more challenging for the individual to learn and retain information.

The reason I feel so strongly about this is because I know far too many young people who are struggling to reach their full potential because they are treated as “second-class” students in school. It is not their fault that they have a condition that makes it tough for them to make progress.

One of my Instagram followers told me that her younger sister, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, had to change schools thrice during the span of her secondary education. In the end, she ended up being homeschooled after all her teachers from the schools she attended failed to give her the help and empathy she needed despite being personally informed by her psychiatrist, the kind of attention she required.

Students with any disability should not be regarded as a burden to teachers. On the contrary, they should be viewed like any other student who is brimming with talent and unique skills that are waiting to be tapped into.

Students are not factory-made; they are individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses. Just because a student doesn’t fit the mould for academic excellence, it does not mean they cannot excel like their peers. If it takes them a longer time, then so be it. Let’s not undercut their potential just because they do not work within a typical timeframe.

I truly hope that by 2050, it will be made mandatory for teachers to be well-equipped with the knowledge and facilities to teach students with disabilities so that their parents won’t have to scour the earth to find a private learning institution for their child, which is often expensive and inaccessible.

Students with any kind of condition that prevents them from learning at a regular pace, not only need different learning approaches, they also need the positive reinforcement other students receive.

Far too often, teachers either lack empathy and it is this negative attitude that makes a student believe they are of no value and causes them to perform badly. Psychologists call this “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Every student is an asset to society, even if they do require extra assistance to get through school. If we were to utilise all our resources to strengthen and empower them, not only are we securing their futures, we are also including them in the race to bring our country forward.

Ignoring or undermining students with physical or mental disabilities only serves to create more complications in the future and exclude a group of people with so much potential and talent. Their unique experience could even serve as a shining example to people with the same conditions, that they, too, can achieve anything.

In a speech at SMK Sultanah Bahiyah in Alor Star, Kedah state education director Datuk Azuyah Hassan said: “In this day and age, it is obvious that the role of education has changed.”

“We now need to produce a generation of students who are not only brilliant, but competent so that they may reach the quality standards needed to turn our national aspirations into reality.”

Competency requires the ability to adapt to new situations. If every teacher can modify their approach to teaching to the learning requirements of their students, I have no doubt that we will create generations of citizens that have the self-confidence to reach great heights due to the confidence that they were shown in their schooling years.

Raja Sarina is a freelance writer, a blogger at www.dearsarina.com and is currently studying Arabic. She is a millenial trying to make a difference, starting with herself

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