By Stephen Ng
DEAR Education Ministry director-general Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim and Senator Ras Adiba Radzi,
Recently, I arranged for a TV interview for little Jonah Micchio Tan, who just turned seven this year. This boy’s plight has received some coverage in the news lately.
He represents, and I believe, several, if not hundreds of thousands of other children with disabilities, who have been deprived of the right to an education.
We have just recently crossed over 2020 and technically, if everyone had worked hard to solve the problems faced by these differently-abled people, we would have all the facilities that are found in the more developed nations to provide these children with a good education.
This is how the developed nations can produce people like Joni Eareckson Tada and Nick Vujicic, while I am still hearing the same kinds of hurdles parents have to face, when their children are enrolling for Primary One.
Some 20 years ago, I knew of the case of a boy with multiple disabilities whose mother devoted her whole life to raising him up, not mentioning the number of hurdles she had to go through until the son graduated with a Bachelor of Music.
Jonah’s mother went to the school running the Special Programme for the disabled persons and the Selangor Education Department, but there was little help.
Knowing the condition of her son, she knew that this was not the right place for him, who suffers from Skeletal Dysplasia.
Every child deserves education
Some friends have managed to find her a home school that is willing to give Jonah a one-month trial, and hopefully, this works out well for the family.
If it does not, Jonah’s mother, being a single mother, would have to look for a school as she cannot afford private education.
However, as I understand it, there are many other cases of children with Skeletal Dysplasia and the Education Ministry has to see them as a different group of disabilities.
And we should not deprive them of a good education, even if it is done online as a last resort.
None of these children are born by choice. During the TV interview, I noticed that Jonah is very cute and mature for his age.
Compared to many young kids of his age, he is already thinking of becoming an entrepreneur and having his own bakery in the future.
While it is understandable that the conventional concept of entrepreneurship cannot be built on a child, Jonah’s Youtube video channel came about after he suggested to his mother that he wanted something like Ryan Toys Reviews (highest paid YouTube channel). The boy was inspired by it!
Shortly after this, Jonah Bakes came about because, according to his mother, Jonah has always loved baking, and a relative of his from Canada worked on the website (JonahBakes.com) for him.
While individuals can assist in whatever small ways they know how, the Education Ministry and the Government at large has a duty to look into the plight of these children.
For a boy with this kind of disability, going to a school even with the special programme, it will be a big challenge. He is only 97cm for his age. Jonah gets tired fast if he has to walk and walking up the stairs is out of the question.
If put together with children having autism, the moment he is pushed, his bones will be fractured. This is why the mother has to recently quit her job and try to focus on something more flexible like what the other mother did some 20 years ago.
What if it is your son or daughter? What would you do? Keep quiet and suffer in silence? You may well be able to afford sending your children to private, or even international schools, but what about the children of the lower middle to B40 group?
It is time for the Education Ministry to do something to improve the facilities for the disabled throughout the country, including in rural schools. There are no two ways about it.
I wish to remind everyone that education is “a fundamental human right (that) lies at the heart of UNESCO’s mission and is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).”
In about a week’s time when Bernama TV’s documentary is released, please watch it and understand the problems that Jonah’s mother, Yumi Yanagi faces.
Let us be, as a caring society, do something to help Jonah and many other families suffering in silence. – Jan 7, 2021
Stephen Ng is an ordinary Malaysian who brings the voices of the people to the forefront. He has served as a voice of conscience to politicians and top civil servants in this country since 2008.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.