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Teachers' challenges in educating special children in special classes of three selected primary schools, Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu, Malaysia.


Education for children who lack proper education has been provided by the Ministry of Education, it is called Special Education. For almost 50 years since Independence, according to Zharulnizam Shah Z.A (2010), the development of education in Malaysia is still in the 'aware stage' and heading towards perfection.

According to the Director of Special Education Division, Ministry of Education-Bong Muk Shin (The Star, September 5th, 2012), every child has the potential to succeed despite their learning difficulties, impairment, or physical disabilities. The number of students enrolled in the special education classes has doubled to 54,000 children over the past few years, excluding students with physical disabilities.

Special education has been implemented in special needs' schools for students with visual and hearing impairment. The integrated special educational program was made available to students who require special needs, andare facing learning disabilities or visual and hearing impairment. This program was introduced in regular primary and secondary schools, as well as in technical and vocational schools that apply inclusion and inductive learning approaches. Currently, there are 1,945 regular schools in the country that run an integrated program for students with learning difficulties (The Star, Wednesday 5th September 2012, p.11).

Facilities and services provided for special education, particularly those who need special treatment and learning are subjected to the Special Education Act 1996, the Education Regulations (Special Education 1997 Part II 3 [2]) in which this act clarifies that a child with special needs is teachable if he/she has the capabilities to be self-sufficient without depending on others (Mohd Rizal and Muallimah, 2010).

Children who are placed in special education classes will usually undergo a screening test through a program called Literacy and Numeracy program or LINUS. LINUS screening is implemented when the Ministry of Education realized that students' disability to master literacy is due to their intellectual disability to grasp what is taught in class (either the method used in teaching or what is taught: subjects too difficult for them to understand). LINUS is a requirement that students need to follow before starting school (first grade). Students that were chosen to learn in special education classes will follow certain steps recommended in the LINUS program in accordance to the Implementation Guidelines for the Special Education Program of 2008.

Under the LINUS program, year one students (first graders) who are identified with learning difficulties are referred to medical assessments after their screening tests. They are later put in programs or special education classes based on the outcome of their medical assessment.

The President of the Dyslexia Association of Malaysia, Sariah Amirin stated that the LINUS program is timely and significant to address the problem of children who failed to master basic literacy and numeracy skills. She believes that the special education teachers play an utmost role in ensuring the objectives are achievable. Teachers need to bear in mind that each child is unique, therefore one method of teaching that fits one child would not fit another. Teachers must be well-trained in phonetics; able to teach children how to blend sounds when teaching reading. She also points out that a small sized class of five is the most ideal class for special education teachers to teach and handle. On top of that, the screening tests for reading disorders should also be conducted from the beginning; as early as preschool. By the age of five, most children should be able to recognize letters, some could speak very well but if they were to encounter major problems in reading, it is a sign that parents should be well-aware of, as it could be the symptoms of dyslexia.

Research Problem:

The operation and implementation of the special education program is a challenging one especially for the teachers because they have to deal with students of different disabilities. Students with dyslexia that were placed in the special education classes will certainly increase a teachers' burden in working things out--to effectively and efficiently educate students with learning problems. The question is why such an event happens to students in regular primary schools, that they have to be placed in special education classes in school and are separated from the learning system? This situation might become a challenge to the teachers because the children placed in the special education classes requires extra time to understand what is taught to them. The concern of challenges do not only exist among the students, but also among the teachers because teachers seem to be lacking in knowledge, experience and exposures to teaching special needs children. Besides that, a lack of specific funds and provisions from the Department of Education for schools as well as a lack of interest from the administration officers to manage the Special Education Program are also a few of the other challenges teachers need to deal with when appointed to teach special education classes.

Research Objective:

This study aims to identify the challenges teachers of special education classes faced in three selected schools in Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu, Malaysia.

Literature Review:

The educational concept practiced in the present educational system to help those with learning difficulties is through special education programs. The Co-curriculum Development Centre, Ministry of Education Malaysia has identified two categories of learning difficulties faced by the students with learning disability; mild cognitive deficits or specific cognitive deficits. Mild cognitive deficits refer to the inability to master basic literacy taught in regular classrooms. According to Rajesvary (2008), children who face mild cognitive deficits usually have problems in the mainstream school programs and require adaptation to appropriate educational approaches, because each has the potential to be independent given the right education and training.

Musa Abdul Wahab (2002) stated that four percent (4%) of the world's population is significant with having the symptoms of dyslexia. In a study done by Rohaty Mohd Majzub and Shafie Mohd Nor (2005), supported by Sheila Devaraj and Samsiah Roslan (2006), there are a few features that characterize children with dyslexiawhich includes reading disabilities, imbalance and intellectual abilities, difficulties to read printed materials, inability to write or copy what is written on the chalkboard or book, eyes tend to tire out after few minutes of focusing on written texts and have limited focus on listening and visual observation. Children who have dyslexia are often found to be having problems in reading and consequently will be placed in a special education class or a specific education class in order to help them improve in their learning process.

One of the examples of challenges that teachers need to face is the climate or the environmental factor. Wan Azah Wan Ali and colleagues (2009) define school environment as a combination of values, cultures, safety measures and organizational structures within a school that works and affects in a particular way--the teaching methods used, diversity of approaches, and the rapport between the administrative staff, teachers and students makes a significant contribution to its climate (surrounding).

According to the Asian Program of Educational Innovation for Development report, there are many factors affecting primary education and learning problems--which include lack of physical and learning environment (Abdul Rahim Hamdan, 2006). Wong Huey Siew (2006) and Siti Zohara Yassin (2006) agree and said that by associating an attractive environment, complete with a variety of essential equipment for students to use as well as comfort for teachers in teaching and learning process in the classroom does improve special education classes. They believe that perfect classroom surroundings will create a 'lively class' without any problems ahead.

Another example of challenges common in special education classes is a lack of teaching interest. Interest and preference is one of the major roles in the teaching and learning process. According to Zaidatol Akhamaliah Lope Pihie and Foo Say Fooi (2005) in their research study--'Empowering Risks Students' Education,' found that the main challenge that occurs in the special education classes is a lack of interest in educating these special children. Noriati A. Rashid and her colleagues (2009) agreed and stated that the main reason why most fresh graduates choose to be teachers is because there seems to be no other work offered throughout the years. They were not given the right to choose careers that they are passionate about because there are limited working opportunities and instead of being seen and labeled as 'unemployed,' they decide to opt for the teaching profession.

Besides that, the teachers who are responsible for teaching the special education classes also lack knowledge, experience and exposure on how to teach special need children because their specialty is not in teaching children with special education needs. A study by Abdul Rahim Hamdan and his colleagues (2006) from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia entitled 'Level of Interest, Knowledge and Skills, Teachers' Training and Workloads among Special Education Class Teachers of Sekolah Kebangsaan Daerah Pontian', found that a few of the factors affecting learning problems included incompetent and poorly trained teachers. This is because teachers in special education classes are not specialized in teaching children with special needs, but mostly among the mainstream teachers specializing in other subjects who were put to teach special children as an option without proper references. This is supported by Siti Zahara Yasin (2006) in saying that teachers from the special education classes are not specialized in that field, as most come from other fields of study such as History, Science, Mathematics, English and other different options, which were then absorbed to the special education classes.

The next factor that is lacking in the special education classes is the allocation of insufficient funds. According to Zaidatul Akhmaliah Lope Pihie and Foo Say Fool (2005), there are a few things that should be addressed by the school board as well as the authorities in order to make sure that the special education class is effectively implemented. Due to such factors, teachers seem to be experiencing emotional stress. The increased pressure in the teaching profession could bring many negative implications towards health, quality of life, happiness and well-being of a person namely the teachers. If teachers continue to feel the pressure while doing their daily work, they will lose all the life qualities they have to offer and have the tendency to experience emotional problems, as well as mental and sexual harassment (Abd Rahim Abd Rashid, 2007).

Besides that, teachers are also facing teaching workloads when assigned to teach special education classes. According to Abdul Rahim Hamdan and his colleagues (2006), teachers often face problems in teaching special education classes because there were too many things to do; they were dumped with a load of administrative work, curriculum as well as co-curriculum besides their teaching responsibilities. Tuan Mohd Fadlan Tuan Jaafar (2006) admits that teachers are not only appointed as homeroom teachers, but they are also assigned as substitute teachers whenever there are teacher shortages, assigned to do administrative work, appointed as the advisor for the student body association or club, assigned as the teacher panel for co-curriculum, sports and many other duties assigned to them. Teachers are expected to perform their duties without question, and if there are programs held by the school, teachers are expected to be present until they end.


This study used qualitative methodology and data were obtained using the interview and observation techniques. The respondents in this study were teachers from the special education classes from three selected primary schools in Kuala Terengganu, parents of one of the students in the special education class and two policy makers which includes a representative from the Terengganu Department of Education.


In this study, it was found that there exist a number of students with dyslexia in the special education classes. The findings from the field study indicate that Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Kompleks Mengabang Telipot (Kompleks Mengabang Telipot Primary School) shows the highest frequency of students with dyslexia placed in the special education class with a percentage of 60 percent, followed by Sekolah Kebangsaan Padang Air (Padang Air Primary School) with 20 percent with a frequency of 4 dyslexic students and Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Kampong Tengah (Kg. Tengah Primary School) with a percentage of 20 percent and frequency of 4 students. This clearly shows that the special education class has two categories of students; Students who have problems in mastering the 3M skills (reading, writing and calculating) and; Students who have dyslexia.

Table 2 above shows the challenges teachers faced in their teaching profession and some of the results obtained are similar to previous studies that have been conducted. Based on the table, the main challenge that teachers face in teaching special education classes include a lack of allocation of funds. Seven respondents were called for an interview and according to R12, there were no specific funds placed for teachers teaching special education classes. R12 said:

"I've been teaching in special education classes for 20 years and was not provided any funds or personal allowances from anyone--especially the Ministry of Education Malaysia. If I am in need of money to teach these children, I would go for the alternative funds, which usually comes from the extra money from the panels of Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) and Mathematics. Sometimes, I used my own budget to buy decorations and teaching materials." (R12)

R12 statement was supported by one of the official representatives from the Terengganu Department of Education, who worked under a special educational center. R1 said that:

"It is true that there is no allocation of money or funds for the special education class, instead teachers are encouraged to ask for donations from other teachers' board--teachers teaching other subjects. We used to suggest this to the superiors, to provide allowances to special education teachers, but there was no feedback received. In fact, the issue of allowances for special education classes was never raised...." (R1)

The second most important challenge that teachers face when teaching special education classes is that there is no specific course provided for them in order to help improve their teaching. Four respondents were interviewed in this study which includes R12, R8, R7 and R6. According to the respondents, they were only exposed to a short period course and most of those who were appointed to teach are not specialized in the special education field. The statements below are a transcription from all four respondents; "I was only given a week course in the teacher training college. The one-week exposure is definitely not sufficient.." (R12)

"I was only given a short briefing about the special education class and zero courses." (R8)

"The course we took was a short one, we have zero experience and exposure about this class, we learn to teach mostly through personal experiences." (R7)

"There was no exposure given, just a three day course, which I have no clue about in the beginning." (R6)

Emotional stress is also one of the main challenges that teachers need to face in teaching children with special needs. R12, R1, R7 and R6 agreed that they learn to be extra patient when dealing with students in the special education classes because student naughtiness is sometimes unbearable. In addition to their mischievous acts in class, these students also show a longing to be pampered and loved like when they were babies, besides always wanting to play around with the toys available in class. Such a condition sometimes triggers teachers' emotions and they often end up stressed.

Climate, surroundings or learning environment is also one of the reasons why teaching special education class is a challenge to its teachers. According to R7, the special education class that he/she was assigned to teach was somehow small in size and could not afford the number of students that kept increasing over the years. R7 stated that; "This class of mine is so small and I could not teach all students at once because then the class will be out of control."

According to R1:

"It is true that the size of the classes for special education is small. But based on RMK-9, the government had already given approval to enlarge the class size, after all those years of putting those issues forward." (R1)

Teachers who lack teaching interest, according to R6: "I was made to teach children in special class because nobody is willing to do so."

Next is the challenge of workload. A study done by Robiah (1992) found that teachers teaching the Special Education classes are burdened with too much work that has nothing to do with the teaching of special education classes. Besides being assigned to teach the special education class, they are also assigned to other work such as administrative work, as disciplinary teacher, resource center teacher, project teacher, temporary substitute teacher and many others. The statement made by Robiah (1992) is supported by the finding in this study when most of the teachers who were interviewed admitted that they were appointed to too many posts that sometimes made things difficult. Most of the teachers expressed their expressions as follows:

"Yes, it is true. I am assigned to be the homeroom teacher, secretary of an association and am assigned as the substitute teacher for any teachers that are absent from school, mainly because according to them, teachers who teach special education class have all the time they need more than others because these children have learning disabilities and dyslexia." (R12)

R8 agreed by saying that:

"I may have been appointed to some fancy positions, but sadly it is useless because I don't have the authority to do anything and if we were to voice it out, nobody would have listened anyway."

Both statements are supported by the superior officer, R1:

"I have to admit that teachers teaching special children are burdened with an overload of work and assignments, which sometimes is out of their jobscope. We also received complaints that these teachers are assigned to replace class as subtitute teachers for other teachers that are absent, and this issue is our concern and we promise that we will be well-aware with every complaint given so that the special education teachers are taken care of."

R3 and R4 however, seems to have different opinion on this issue:

"All teachers are equal and they are assigned to do other workloads the very same way as other teachers."

The statement made by R3 and R4 shows that both respondents did not want to admit that the special education teachers are given workloads more than the mainstream teachers. They believed that both mainstream teachers and special education teachers are given the same amount of work in schools. However, the personal expression shared by the special education teachers shows that they are over burdened with the work assigned by the school authorities.

A number of challenges were identified in this study; which includes time, insufficient teaching-learning materials, bullies, and being given no recognition by the Ministry of Education Malaysia. Firstly, time constraint. Time has been mentioned thrice in the interview sessions. Based on the interviews with R12 and R6, they pointed out that there is not enough time for special education class teachers to teach. This is because, the students are not full-time students in the special education class, but only come in based on the schedule as appointed in the mainstream classes. These students will only be sent to the special education class during Bahasa Melayu and Mathematics classes, when it is time for other classes they are required to go back to their mainstream class. When such a thing occurs, teachers find it difficult to be effective and efficiently teach because they lack time and space with the special students. R12 when interviewed stated that:

"The time given us to teach is during Bahasa Melayu and Mathematics periods. If we don't follow the time given, it would be a drag. The total minutes given to teach these children is 900 minutes, plus 120 minutes for preparations, which means, we are only given 1,020 minutes to teach ((17 hours per week). This is so limited." (R12)

R5 agreed and stated that:

"There is limited time spent for these children--an hour a day for a class, and if you ask me, I would spend my whole evening for these students, but sadly, they have fardhu ain (religious classes) and co-curriculum." (R5)

The second new finding is insufficient teaching-learning materials, as mentioned by one respondent, namely R7:

"I am 100% dependent on the text book provided by the Ministry of Education Malaysia. There are not enough teaching-learning materials provided, and the previous module is no longer used. It's just that, in order to get my hand on the latest modules, I need to refer and ask from the specialist teachers or the specialists for special children who have been involved in this field for many years. "

The third new finding is bullying. R1 when interviewed mentioned that special education teachers are bullied when assigned. R1 said:

"Throughout my own experience--being promoted in the special education unit, I personally have been bullied and I did received complaints from other special education teachers who are bullied the same way I was then. I can provide proof of being bullied from my friends and own experiences. Every time there is a new course where teachers (mainstream teachers) are required to attend, it would be the special teachers who are sent away to attend those courses. When asked, they will say that special education teachers are more relaxed than the mainstream teachers and instead of just lazying around, we should be sent to attend those courses, even if it is a totally different course, unrelated to the special education class I'm teaching." (R1)

Through the researcher's observations, these situations do happen among the special education teachers. During the interview sessions with Respondent 1, R1 showed a letter by the clerk (school admin) that was sent to him. R1 was assigned to attend a course in a different field and as this scenario shows, it is true that special education teachers are bullied by the superiors in their schools.

The fourth new theme found in this study is no recognition and it was mentioned once by the respondent; R1. R1, in his interview stated:

"Actually, the Ministry of Education does not recognize the Special Education class, although of course it had been introduced and implemented under the Department of Special Education. We have tried to make it recognizable, but for now it is wasted because there is no official approval from the superiors. With no official approval, it would be difficult for us to allocate funds and the special education teachers assigned to such posts are those who used to teach other options--mainstream teachers." (R1)

The special education teachers also need to deal with other teachers with negative attitudes. R8 and R1 said that there are a few teachers in school that could not accept the special education teachers because they believe that the special education teachers were only assigned to teach a small number of students and have more leisure time to spent in a day. However, according to R5:

"If it is true that being a special education teacher is easy, try to put on my shoes. I am stressed out dealing with these children; they are slow learners and have dyslexia, it is not that easy to teach these kids because they are a little special from other normal children in school. Other teachers should feel what I feel, then...." (R5)

This statement made by R5 shows that whatever is shown and seen from another point of view is never the same as what is experienced by the special education teachers.

Another challenge that the special education teachers need to deal with is the disciplinary problems among the students in the special education class. Through the observation made throughout this study, it was found that such disciplinary problems are due to parental neglection and peer influences. According to R12 and R7: "Sometimes parents do not care about their children in this class, children use languages that is too bold and obviously does not reflect their age."

Chart 1 above shows the challenges that the special education teachers are facing when assigned to teach special education classes. The challenges found in this study are then listed based on themes. It was found that insufficient allocation of funds scored the highest with a total percentage of 23%, and the lowest is teachers' lack or no interest to teach, limited teaching-learning materials, bullies and no recognition--with a total percentage of 3% each respectively. Other challenges include; teachers' emotional pressure (13%), no specific in-depth exposure provided (13%), workload (10%), time constraint (10%), climate (7%), students' disciplinary problem (6%) and received other teachers' negative attitude/remarks (6%).

Besides that, it was also found that special education teachers have to deal with two categories of special students that require two different teaching-learning approaches. Results from the analysis show that there exist demanding challenges for the special education teachers in teaching the special needs children.

Conclusion and Suggestions:

There are many challenges that special education class teachers need to deal with after being assigned to teach children that have special needs. Based on the purpose of special education--after being established and implemented, special education classes are meant to help students master the 3M skills of reading, writing and arithmetic (calculating). However, its main purpose has changed over the years. Special education teachers do not only teach, but they help educate these children like their own sons and daughters. Teachers teaching special education classes believe that these special children require not only knowledge, but also love, care and all the attention they can get from their surroundings. The teachers believe that with tender love and affection, their students will feel wanted and worthy.

It was also found that the special education teachers are not given appropriate exposure in the special education field. Most of the teachers that were appointed to teach special education classes are mainstream teachers teaching mathematics, linguistics, and other subjects. Specific courses were only held for a short period of time--from 3 to 7 day courses (a week max), courses that only provide definitions of special education. It is up to the special education teachers to find information pertaining to special education classes--in order to improve their teaching methodology (approaches) in schools.

Several important recommendations were pointed out which include allocation of funds for special education classes--in order to create a conducive, well decorated learning environment as well as to increase student reading materials.

It is crucial that parents' sense of awareness is increased pertaining to dyslexic children and how special their children are. Children with dyslexia should be placed in an integrated special education class instead of special class in mainstream schools because such a scenario could cause difficulties to the teachers as they need to teach children with two different needs using two different approaches. What makes things more difficult is the teachers were not provided any funds to buy their teaching-learning materials. Awareness campaigns should be enhanced in order to help ease the burden these teachers are facing and the teaching could be done in a more systematic way.

Besides that, pediatricians should also be available--giving and providing guidance and guidelines from time to time to special education classroom teachers on how to deal with children with dyslexia. In this study, however, special education teachers were not provided adequate exposure on dyslexic children and how to help them. This seems to be a problem because it is not an easy task for teachers to identify which children have dyslexia. Dyslexic children seem normal from the outside, but the reality is they are not, and it is important that pediatricians play their role in helping teachers to identify which ones need help.


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Norizan Abdul Ghani, Zahidah Anisah Mohamad and Che Wan Takwa Che Wan Abu Bakar

Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin, Terengganu, Malaysia

Norizan Abdul Ghani, Zahidah Anisah Mohamad and Che Wan Takwa Che Wan Abu Bakar; Teachers' Challenges in Educating Special Children in Special Classes of Three Selected Primary Schools, Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu, Malaysia

Corresponding Author: Norizan Abdul Ghani, Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin, Terengganu, Malaysia

Table 1: Respondents of the Study (Source: Field Study, 2012).

No    Gender                    Job Description/Status

1      Male      Special Recovery Officer, Terengganu Department of
2      Male         Senior Assistant of Student Affairs Division,
                           Terengganu Department of Education
3     Female        Senior Assistant 1, Kg. Tengah Primary School
4     Female        Senior Assistant 1, Padang Air Primary School
5     Female             Special Recovery Specialist Teacher
6     Female              Teacher, Padang Air Primary School
7     Female       Teacher, Kompleks Seberang Takir Primary School
8     Female       Teacher, Kompleks Seberang Takir Primary School
9      Male                             Father
10    Female                            Mother
11    Female                            Mother
12    Female              Teacher, Kg. Tengah Primary School

No    Respondent

1         R1

2         R2

3         R3
4         R4
5         R5
6         R6
7         R7
8         R8
9         R9
10        R10
11        R11
12        R12

Table 2: Distribution of Themes (Source: Field Study, 2012).

Themes based on           Themes based on Interviews      Frequency
Highlights                    (Field Study 2012)          (Responses
(Previous Studies)                                           From

Climate                             Climate                    2

Teachers lack of          Teachers lack of interest            1
  interest in teaching            in teaching

Teaching non-option          Teaching non-option             None
  subjects                         subjects

Lack allocation of         Lack allocation of funds            7

Teachers' emotional          Teachers' emotional               4
  pressure                         pressure

Other tasks load               Other tasks load                3

Less favored teachers        No specific in-depth              4

Teachers' lack of               Time constraint                3
  creativity                Students' disciplinary             2
                            Lack teaching materials            1
                                     Bully                     1
                                No recognition                 1
                         Receive negative impression           2
                              from other teachers

Chart 1: Percentage of Special Education Teachers' Challenges
based on Themes

Insufficient allocation of funds      23%

Teachers lack of interest              3%

Climate                                7%

Teachers' emotional pressure          13%

Other workloads                       10%

No specific in-depth exposures        13%

Time constraint                       10%

Student's disciplinary problems        6%


Limited teaching-learning materials    3%

Bullies                                3%

No recognition                         3%

Need to deal with other teachers'      6%
Negative attitudes

Source: Field Study, 2012

Note: Table made from pie chart
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Title Annotation:Original Article
Author:Ghani, Norizan Abdul; Mohamad, Zahidah Anisah; Bakar, Che Wan Takwa Che Wan Abu
Publication:Advances in Natural and Applied Sciences
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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