We constantly gripe about the state of our education system. We whine at the quality of teachers and the size of our classrooms. Yet, for some children, these are the least of their concerns.
For such children, having an illness means not being able to go to school. It may mean having only a year or so to live. It may mean long hospital stays for ongoing treatment.
Even in such circumstances, learning should not stop. Every child is entitled to an education, even a child who is sick.
For those terminally ill, schoolwork can take their minds off their immediate circumstances and pain. For others who are slowly improving, they will be able to resume normal classes easily following treatment.
In an effort to support a child’s right to learn during hospitalisation, the Malaysian government set up the Sekolah Dalam Hospital at some government hospitals nationwide.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Sekolah Dalam Hospital at Pusat Perubatan Universiti Malaya (PPUM). This is what I learnt.
What is Sekolah Dalam Hospital?
It is a school in a hospital. Typically, the ages of students range from four years and above.
Depending on the severity of an illness, a child may attend classes at the schoolroom or have lessons conducted at their bedside.
It does not matter if a child is admitted for a day, a month or even a year. School-aged patients may choose to attend school as long as they are hospitalised.
Teachers are government school teachers who have applied for and have been assigned to work at the Sekolah Dalam Hospital. These schools are in most government hospitals throughout Malaysia, with the exception of Kedah, Perlis, Penang, Perak and Melaka.
What do they learn?
At the PPUM School, there are eight teachers; four for primary school children and four for secondary learners.
The Sekolah Dalam Hospital uses the Malaysian public school syllabus. The main subjects taught are Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mathematics, Science and Islamic Education.
Teachers prepare individual lesson plans to help each child pick-up from where they left off in school. This ensures continuity in the child’s learning.
When the children return to school, they are not left behind.
Parents are always happy to see their children continue their studies despite their illnesses. At times, it is a welcome relief and distraction from the tough realities the children are confronted with.
What about examinations?
There are no school-level examinations. However, if a child has already registered for UPSR, PT3 or SPM, they will not miss their examination.
The Sekolah Dalam Hospital will arrange for them to sit for the papers at the same time as their peers nationwide. Assigned invigilators will bring the examinations papers to the schoolroom or bedside of patients.
More than a teacher
The student-teacher dynamics in this school setting is unconventional.
According to Premma Kandasamy, a Secondary level English teacher at PPUM’s Sekolah Dalam Hospital, her role also includes counselling.
Most government teachers may find paperwork a bane. But for Premma, her toughest challenge is knowing that her students’ days are numbered.
“The most difficult part of the job is when we know they won’t make it, and they are just counting the days they have left.”
She recalls, rather sadly, her mixed feelings about her former student, Lily (not her real name), a 17-year-old with leukemia. Lily was under Premma’s tutelage for over a year.
Toward the end, her organs began to shut down, but Premma continued to teach her till the very end. Premma was grieved to lose her, but to a certain extent relieved that Lily’s suffering ended.
Recently, Premma was approached by a parent of her former student, Adam (not his real name). 19-year old Adam had a relapse of cancer after two years in remission and was refusing chemotherapy.
After some coaxing, Premma convinced Adam to take one cycle of chemo, and then decide if he would go on.
This is one instance where Premma says, “my role is 60 per cent counselor and 40 per cent teacher to these children. Especially when they have a terminal illness, they want nothing more than to be treated like any other child or teenager.”
According to Premma, the right attitude is crucial when teaching children with illnesses. Premma, who is also pursuing a Masters in Special Education at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) believes that staying positive is key.
She always starts off her day with a smile on her face. Although she has loved and lost many students, she keeps smiling for the sake of those who still need her.
Makchic also asked if the school requires any contributions. Sekolah Dalam Hospital at PPUM welcomes contributions in kind such as stationery and story books which can be given to their students. If you wish to make a contribution, please contact Premma Kandasamy at 012-399 0834.