‘SMARTER offers unique learning experience’

National 3 minutes, 24 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

SMARTER Brunei is a world-class organisation which provides invaluable learning and working experiences with individuals with autism that can’t be found elsewhere in the world.

Students and lecturers from Australia’s Flinders University echoed this sentiment yesterday on the sidelines of the closing ceremony of the seventh Brunei National Conference on Autism at the Language and Literature Bureau.

The students, who study disability and developmental education, had undergone a three-week placement at the Society for the Management of Autism Related Issues in Training, Education and Resources (SMARTER) Brunei under the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan.

Speaking to The Brunei Times, Flinders University lecturer Debbie Smith called SMARTER a “fine organisation” which provided the visiting Australian students with a “unique learning experience” that they couldn’t get back home.

“For anyone who’s working with children in Australia, we have a ‘hands-off’ policy sadly, which means that people wouldn’t hug children or pick them up or do any of these things due to a decision made based on some bad experiences in the past.

“And we are the lesser for that because I think that close physical contact, hugs and holding hands are really important parts of human growth and development,” Smith said.

Smith said the students had a chance to “learn the very best from the very best centre” they could find.

“They’ve really learnt a great amount about working with individuals with autism and how best to support them,” she said.

She said the students had undergone training in their first week at SMARTER to familiarise themselves with the organisation’s philosophy and to understand the strategies used there before applying and practicing the theories in classrooms with individuals with autism and staff at SMARTER.

The students also got the opportunity to work alongside and in collaboration with officers from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, she said.

One student, Max Sharpe, referred to the practices and strategies used at SMARTER as “superior in any way” to practices used back home.

“At the school for students with intellectual disabilities I work at (back in Australia), I think we have a bit of policy where (you can give) side hugs, things like that. So it’s a little bit restrictive.

“That’s a critical element and a critical policy that needs to be reassessed in Australia because physical contact is extremely effective (with regards to individuals with autism), which has been shown at SMARTER,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe also praised SMARTER staff for their efforts in making the organisation one of the best in the world.

“They have all the elements of brilliant theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge and the practices they’re putting in place, but it’s the love and passion that (the staff have) that keeps SMARTER going and sets it apart,” he said.

Another student, Stefania Kalinowski, said that words couldn’t describe her invaluable experience at SMARTER and its Brunei Autism Centre for Adults (BACA).

“We’ve experienced and learnt so much about autism from (SMARTER President) Malai (Hj Abdullah Hj Malai Othman).

“I’ve helped students (with autism) to be able to communicate how they feel and what they want, basically empower them to reach their fullest potential as individuals, which is wonderful,” Kalinowski said.

“SMARTER definitely has a wonderful programme and the best in the world as far as I’m concerned because there’s probably no other place in the world which does what (SMARTER President) Malai does with his staff. It’s excellent,” she added.

According to a statement issued by the Australian High Commission, Flinders University has been awarded funding under the New Colombo Plan to bring additional student groups to Brunei for the next three years.

“Each of us has expressed how amazing this has been, how life-changing it’s been.

“So for the next three years, I’m excited because I know of the valuable and wonderful and unique experience they have within SMARTER and within the country of Brunei,” Sharpe said.

The Brunei Times