Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The experience of publishing the first research article in the international journal

After more than a year of continued effort and dedicated team work, I and my friends have ultimately managed to publish our first research paper titled ‘Supporting Students with Disability in Schools in Bhutan: Perspectives from School Principals’ on 22nd August 2018 in the International Journal of Inclusive Education. I was very fortunate to have got the opportunity to work with a very competent team on this paper. Our group consisted of Dasho Ugyen Namgay, the Hon’ble Member of Parliament (NC) from Haa, Ms. Chokey Yangzom, a special education teacher of Changangkha Middle Secondary School, Ms. Sangay Choden, Dy. Chief Program officer of the Department of Adult and Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Mr. Karma Dorji, Senior Lecturer from Paro College of Education and me. We were first part of the Bhutanese delegation to attend the Australia Awards South and West Asia Regional Alumni Workshop on Inclusive Education in Kathmandu, Nepal in November 2016. It was during this workshop that we decided to do a research study in Bhutan to find out the impact of inclusive practices in schools with Special Educational Needs (SEN) programs. More importantly, we were blest to have the support of Prof. Suzanne Karington and Prof. Julie Nickerson from Queensland University of Technology in Australia who had been part of this project right from the beginning. Although this journey was long and winding, often zigzagging through difficult times, we have ultimately managed to catch our dream and the credit goes to all those who had been part of this journey including the two seasoned professors from Australia.

Our primary interest was to investigate the progress of inclusive education in schools with SEN programs in Bhutan through the perspective of school principals as it has been more than a decade since such programs have been introduced in those schools to promote universal access to education. Considering the rising number of children with disability in the country every year, the government has increasingly felt the need to have SEN programs in schools so that even children with disability can access education alongside their non-disabled peers in the same learning environment. Today, we have 14 schools with SEN programs including two special schools: the Muenselling Institute of Khaling which is a special school for the blind and Wangsel Institute in Paro which is a special school for the deaf. So in this qualitative study, the principals of these 14 schools responded to questions related to inclusive practices in their respective schools. The responses have been divided into two broad categories: the current status of inclusion in the school, and inclusion in the future. Some of the barriers described by principals are the lack of professionally trained specialized teachers, crowded classrooms, inadequate resources/facilities and the lack of holistic inclusion. However, there is also a positive hope for the future as students with disabilities are generally found to be accepted by their peers and that the schools are making good use of the available resources and expertise to support them.

Some of the most important recommendations for better implementation of inclusive education in the future include inclusive curriculum and teaching pedagogy, specialized teachers and staff, adequate resources/facilities such as accessible infrastructure, accessible teaching/learning materials, etc. and special support systems in place to enable students with disabilities to equally participate in the classroom as well as in extra-curricular activities. The findings from this study are expected to be of interest to researchers and policy-makers in schools and the Ministry of Education in Bhutan who are working to strengthen and expand inclusive education across schools in the country.

It was such a huge relief to know that our paper was finally published. It was a moment for all of us to celebrate after having worked so tirelessly for months. Despite our busy schedules, we managed to meet several times to discuss and write the paper. Now that our hard work has been paid off, we are very proud that there is one more research paper on Bhutan in the international domain. It is in fact the first feather on our cap. This achievement has ignited a new enthusiasm in me to do more research studies in the future.

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