Takhmao Special Education High School is the Kingdom’s sole state educational institution for children with autism and intellectual disabilities. It was established in February 2021 as one of six special education high schools, under the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport’s National Institute for Special Education.

The remaining five special education schools cater to students who are deaf or blind.

“Despite providing special education to approximately 200 children with autism and intellectual disabilities, the Takhmao school falls significantly short in meeting demand. It is estimated that around 20,000 Cambodian children have some form of autism,” said Chan Sarin, principal of the school, who compiled data from various organisations.

According to the 2013 mid-census data from the Ministry of Planning, 2.1 per cent of Cambodians, or approximately 300,000 people have disabilities. Of this number, 35 per cent have visual impairments, which includes both blindness and other impairments. The remaining disabilities include learning disabilities such as dyslexia and autism, as well as physical disabilities such as Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to the state school, there are several privately funded schools.

Phouk Many is a coordinator at the Growing Special Education School (GSES), in Phnom Penh.

“We recognise the pressing need for special education, especially for children with autism and intellectual disabilities. Under a project funded by the Catholic community, we aim to train teachers at various schools to provide effective support for these special kids from a young age,” he said.

He told The Post that he recently met with the principal of Chao Ponhea Hok School, to organise a workshop on special education for kindergarten and primary school students. The workshops will be run at five schools across the capital.

Education ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha, explained that the National Institute for Special Education includes a department for intellectual disabilities and autism.

“The institute is designing a programme which focuses on additional teacher training to better address the educational needs of students with disabilities,” he told The Post.

“The ministry has established a policy for inclusive education, along with an action plan spanning from 2019 to 2023. The plan focuses on promoting education for children with intellectual disabilities and autism. The ministry has consistently broadened the scope of special education, based on available resources and opportunities to meet educational requirements,” he added.

Takhmao school prinaipal Sarin aims to open specific classes for autistic students in the government’s other five special education schools.

“Minister of education Hang Chuon Naron is very concerned for students with special needs, especially those with autism or intellectual disabilities. I am optimistic that the special education institute will consider implememnting special classes in the other five schools,” he told The Post.

“I also hope to enrol deaf or blind students at my Takhmao campus,” he said.

Sarin said the government approved a policy in 2018 of providing a equal, quality and inclusive education to all people with special needs.

“The purpose of this policy is to foster education for individuals with special needs so that they can acquire knowledge and skills, and participate in the overall development of the nation,” he added.

“Takhmao Special Education High School contributes to improving special education and reducing the poverty of families with disabled children. This aligns with the government’s Sustainable Development Goals for Education 2030 and the Strategic Plan for Education for 2019-2023,” said ministry spokesman Soveacha.

“The education ministry has implemented policies that guarantee a quality, equity and inclusivity education, while also promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. These policies are designed to ensure the efficiency of leadership and management among education officials at all levels,” he added.