Ari Karnia helps children with special learning needs in Central Lombok

Each year on the 3rd December, the United Nations celebrates International Day for Persons with Disabilities. The day is used to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development – including in education.

In Indonesia, a country with the world’s fourth largest education system, the challenge of ensuring inclusive and equitable education for all students is no easy task. Primary school enrollment, attendance and completion rates for Indonesia’s children with disabilities are noticeably low. Data from the 2010 census indicated that only 53 per cent of people with disabilities ever attended school compared to 98 per cent of people with no disability.[1] A comprehensive review showed that youth aged 15–24 years with no schooling have two or three times the rate of disability as youth with schooling[2].

In this article, INOVASI’s partner teacher Ari Karnia from Central Lombok shares how she is helping to create an inclusive learning environment in her own classroom.

Ari Karnia, a grade 4 teacher at Peresak Bebuak primary school in Central Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, is passionate about improving education quality for children with special needs and learning disabilities. She is proud to be involved with local INOVASI program implementation in her district.

Central Lombok, one of six INOVASI partner districts in NTB, has long declared itself an inclusive district, after signing the Regent’s Regulation on Special Education and Special Services (Number 39) in 2013. Since beginning program implementation in the district in mid-2016, INOVASI, an Indonesia – Australia education partnership program, has been working to improve and understand student learning outcomes – particularly related to literacy, numeracy and inclusion. In collaboration with the district government and local education office, INOVASI has implemented an inclusive education pilot with selected schools and communities.

In 2019, in partnership with Mataram University (FKIP UNRAM), the inclusive education pilot was expanded, and teachers from 14 education institutions were trained in inclusive education material. 62 teachers and school principals have since participated in 5 inclusive education training modules, developed by INOVASI.

Ari, who has been teaching for 4 years, was excited to be selected as a local facilitator (Fasda), undergoing an initial recruitment process and now tasked with supporting partner teachers.

“I joined INOVASI in August 2019, and was directly recruited as a local facilitator, to help INOVASI support teachers who work in inclusive education. We identify and create learning media,” she said, when asked about her role.

In her role, Ari has helped teachers produce various forms of learning media, that can be used to help students with a range of learning difficulties and special needs. The tools can also be used to support mainstream students with basic conceptual understanding in the classroom.

One of these learning tools is the ‘Multiples Board’ (below), which helps students understand the concept of number multiples. It is easy to make, using locally available materials inside and outside the classroom.

Another strategy for supporting students with different learning abilities is the classroom reading corner. Ari designed a reading corner for her own classroom, to increase student reading interest and to create a more comfortable classroom environment. Displays of student work, including drawings and paintings, can now be found on her classroom walls. Students also have a special place to put their bags, so that they are more motivated at their table, and less likely to get distracted. By re-arranging the seating in her classroom, Ari noticed that the flow of discussion and learning became more effective for all students. In another corner of the classroom, Ari has displayed the Serial Si Bintang books, which contain sign language and were designed by Forum Lingkar Pena, an INOVASI grant partner in Central Lombok. Students like to visit the reading corner and use the books during lunch time.

Ari’s school, Peresak Bebuak, was actually established by the local education office as a designed inclusive primary school. For Ari herself, she first became familiar with the idea of inclusive education teaching and learning when she worked as an honorary teacher, and engaged with some students who had learning disabilities. She also attended an Additional Education and Authority Program through Surabaya State University (UNESA), where she learnt more.

Graduating from IKIP Mataram with a major in Biology Education, Ari believes that students with special needs are special children who deserve fair treatment.

“In my opinion, children with special needs are more special children – they need special services. They need more than the other students. As teachers, we need to intensify our guidance for these children. We do not know their abilities if we do not provide enough support, appropriate to the capability levels they have,” she explained.

Ari recalls her own experience attending primary school with a student who had disabilities.

“When I was in primary school, I had a friend who had cerebral palsy (brain paralysis). This means that his body is stiff. Despite the limitations he experienced, he even graduated with a computer major. Just imagine a child or person with cerebral palsy, movements of hands, feet and so on having difficulty. But apparently that does not prevent him from realising the capabilities he has.”

As a teacher, it is not uncommon for Ari to deal with students with special needs. She has previously taught students with visual impairments and learning disabilities. Ari firmly believes that educators should receive special guidance and training for teaching and managing special needs students in the classroom.

“We usually find children with special needs in schools, especially in Peresak Bebuak Primary School, are children with learning difficulties or maybe just slow learners. I think every school has students who are slow to learn. Slow in the sense that they are a bit slow in understanding learning concepts compared to other children. Incidentally, in my class there was one child who had functional difficulties. So, the form of intervention that we provide is with special guidance. ”

Ari explains how she has gained a lot of knowledge since joining the pilot program, including how to use the Profile Belajar Siswa (or PBS, a student learning profile). This includes learning how to fill out the PBS form, and how to adapt and develop the student learning implementation plans for students with special needs.

The PBS, a tool developed by MoEC and with support from INOVASI and the Technical Assistance for Education Systems Strengthening (TASS) program, identifies disability as well as children’s learning and support needs. The tool is currently being piloted across  all 34 provinces of Indonesia, with a focus on integrating the data in DAPODIK and the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Education Management Information System (EMIS). It is expected that this will help overcome current challenges related to validity and reliability of existing impairment-based disability categorisation.

Ensuring that all Indonesians participate in a quality, relevant education will contribute directly to the improvement of workforce and employment – and regional economic competitiveness – and, at the same time, will help ensure that citizens live healthy and productive lives. This is certainly something that teachers like Ari continue to work towards.

[1] Note that this figure draws on 2010 census data. UNESCO 2018.


Ari Karnia helps children with special learning needs in Central Lombok