A Powerful Conference
July last year marked the beginning of a new era for young Malaysian children after the conclusion of the 2ndedition of the Sarawak Conference on Inclusive Early Childhood Education (ECE). Organized by Fu Yuan Kindergarten – a community-based kindergarten which has implemented inclusive education for Early Years’ children for the past ten years, the 3-day conference aimed at bringing together health and education professionals, social welfare officers, policy makers, community leaders and even parents of children with special needs.
Under the theme ‘Accept, Accompany and Achieve’, an intensive discussion was initiated on strategies to improve the recognition of children with special needs, as well as assessment and implementing strategies to enable them to achieve their future goals. The sensitive issue of equality of all children to access education and health has been gradually gaining ground in Malaysia, a country which had already signed the Convention of the Rights of the Children (CRC) by the United Nations in 1995, stating just that.
The diverse program of the convention brought into Sarawak more than 83 international and Malaysian speakers to provide participants with a range of topics divided into plenary, dialogue, concurrent workshops and interactive sessions. Delegate attendance exceeded all expectations, as more than 800 people from over 20 countries had the opportunity for professional networking and knowledge exchange on ways of supporting and implementing inclusive ECE.
All for a Level Playing Field in Education
Dr. Toh Teck Hock, Vice President of the National Early Childhood Intervention Council, Malaysia cum Paediatrician at Sibu Hospital and one of the organizers of the conference believes strongly in education as a means of acquiring knowledge for all children equally. The uniqueness of each child leads to different potentials and skills, all necessary for personal growth as well as for the world’s future. Dr. Toh has been instrumental in developing and shaping the community and state’s response to special needs education and care for the last fifteen years.
With the conclusion of the conference, he was optimistic that its mission had been fulfilled: “The conference aimed to create awareness and participants had learned practical skills to help special needs children. While these are useful locally and benefited those who attended from worldwide, together, participants also discussed strategies to push for inclusive ECE policy, which will see government and organizations implement such policy that will ensure children with special needs are not left out.”
In fact, the change in Sarawak had already started at the beginning of last year, when the Ministry of Education adopted a zero-reject policy, making it possible for special needs children to receive education corresponding to their individual abilities, either through mainstream schools via the Inclusive Education Programme (IEP), the Special Education Integrated Programme (SEIP) or in a Special Education School (SES), covering from pre-school up to secondary levels. One of the Ministry’s key strategies in implementing this policy is training preschool teachers on how to screen and identify developmental delays.
Amelia Roziman, Chief Operating Officer of Business Events Sarawak, praised the efforts and achievements of the conference: “The key to a successful conference is to cover topics which echo society’s concerns, making them relevant. Dr. Toh and his team have pulled this off brilliantly, doubling the delegate numbers and en route to making gradual changes to Sarawak’s inclusive ECE policies.”
This conference reflects exactly the efforts of BESarawak and its alignment to the vision of the government to attract conferences reflecting the values of the destination for positive societal impact. The combination of dedicated knowledgeable members of the society and a far-sighted convention bureau, along with the necessary support from the government, prove to be once again a guaranteed success recipe for Sarawak.
The event’s unparalleled success has urged Dr. Toh to put together another conference with several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Miri, Sarawak. The 8th National Early Childhood Intervention Conference is to be held in 2020 with the theme ‘Empower, Equip, Expand’ and is organized by the National Early Childhood Intervention Council as a key event to promote early recognition of special needs children. Following the outline of its predecessor, the program will include plenary sessions and practical workshops covering topics in the interest of teachers and parents alike.