Will there be Fair Op­por­tu­nity for all Stu­dents un­der New Ad­min­is­tra­tion?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

By Faye-Chantelle Mondesir

June 15th, 2016 marked yet an­other Com­mon En­trance Day ex­am­i­na­tion on the cal­en­dar. It rep­re­sents an­other op­por­tu­nity for grade six­ers is­land-wide to ad­vance to se­condary school level, thereby con­tin­u­ing pur­suit of a solid ed­u­ca­tion. This should even­tu­ally qual­ify them to em­bark upon a fruit­ful ca­reer and build a se­cure life for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. But how can this be achieved if each child's unique skills and strengths are over­looked and not in­di­vid­u­ally fos­tered, al­low­ing them to at­tain suc­cess at what they do best? In the case of chal­lenged chil­dren, whether men­tal or phys­i­cal, the ideal so­lu­tion would be for spe­cial pro­vi­sions to be put in place to ac­com­mo­date their spe­cific needs.

In Oc­to­ber of 2015, former Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, Hu­man Re­source De­vel­op­ment and Labour, Dr. Robert Lewis rep­re­sented Saint Lucia in Bar­ba­dos as part of a del­e­ga­tion spon­sored by the Caribbean De­vel­op­ment Bank (CDB). There, he par­tic­i­pated in a week-long study tour of spe­cial needs ed­u­ca­tion ar­range­ments.

He ex­plained the aim of his visit to the Bar­ba­dian me­dia: “What we re­ally wanted to do is look at some of the in­sti­tu­tional ar­range­ments you have, as well as some of the poli­cies that guide spe­cial needs ed­u­ca­tion." He thanked Dr. Denny of the CDB for the ini­tia­tive, and ‘for ac­com­mo­dat­ing them in terms of the sched­ule and do­ing all the lo­gis­tics in terms of the in­sti­tu­tions'.

Lewis stated, “I think the gov­ern­ment of Saint Lucia needs to move in the di­rec­tion to make bet­ter preparations for stu­dents with spe­cial needs in our coun­try." He ex­pressed his hope that the CDB would be in a po­si­tion so that when ap­proached for fund­ing, it would al­ready be more amenable to it.

His syn­op­sis of the visit was as fol­lows: “I think Bar­ba­dos must be com­mended for what it has done in terms of spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion cen­tres. What re­ally im­pressed me was the fact that they have tried dif­fer­ent mod­els so that any par­ent could be in a po­si­tion to choose what he/she thinks is the best fit for his/her child who needs spe­cial at­ten­tion.”

The STAR was in­formed this week of im­bal­ances within our own ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem whereby chil­dren of vary­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties are placed within the same tu­to­rial set­tings and ex­pected to per­form like the rest of their coun­ter­parts, de­spite their in­tel­lec­tual dif­fer­ences.

A re­cent in­ci­dent brought to light was that of a men­tally chal­lenged stu­dent who was sched­uled to sit the ex­ams this week, over­seen by a pri­vate in­vig­i­la­tor at one of the exam cen­tres, a sit­u­a­tion which trig­gered de­bate from var­i­ous an­gles.

We spoke with a teacher about the sit­u­a­tion. “Spe­cial needs chil­dren or chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties are placed within pub­lic schools which do not cater to their re­quire­ments,” she re­vealed. “While it is un­der­stand­able that the driv­ing force be­hind parents do­ing such is to pre­vent them from be­ing os­tracised, it places that child at a great dis­ad­van­tage, as they are de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to evolve healthily in a tai­lored set­ting, apt for their ul­ti­mate de­vel­op­ment.

“Some parents may be em­bar­rassed to put their chil­dren in schools like Dunot­tar be­cause they want their chil­dren to grow up feel­ing no less or dif­fer­ent than others. How­ever, if a child is in­tel­lec­tu­ally chal­lenged, I be­lieve it is in his or her best in­ter­est to at­tend a school which pro­vides a set­ting con­ducive to sim­i­lar chil­dren, to en­sure that he or she re­ceives more spe­cialised at­ten­tion. This way, they have a much greater chance of be­ing more pro­duc­tive and ul­ti­mately max­imis­ing their abil­i­ties to their fullest po­ten­tial. For now, the re­al­ity is that our pub­lic schools in gen­eral just do not have all the tar­geted pro­vi­sions to foster the prac­ti­cal and ef­fi­cient growth of chil­dren who have spe­cial needs."

Last Oc­to­ber Bar­ba­dian Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy and In­no­va­tion, Ron­ald Jones re­ferred to his coun­try's ex­cel­lent mix of pri­vate and pub­lic spe­cial needs in­sti­tu­tions. He em­pha­sised that what­ever they can do within the con­text of each child mat­ters, as ev­ery child is im­por­tant re­gard­less of what­ever that need is, spe­cial or oth­er­wise.

With the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion, per­haps ap­pro­pri­ate sys­tems can be put in place lo­cally, in­tro­duc­ing spe­cial needs ac­com­mo­da­tions into schools is­land-wide, both on an ad­min­is­tra­tive and prac­ti­cal level. Where it is not pos­si­ble to meet all the needs of all chal­lenged or dis­abled stu­dents within a pub­lic school set­ting, the pos­si­bil­ity of pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions of learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment should be con­sid­ered. Through these col­lec­tive means, youth who are men­tally chal­lenged can thereby re­ceive skill-based train­ing, where aca­demic de­vel­op­ment may not nec­es­sar­ily be any op­tion.

To quote the afore­men­tioned teacher, “We can­not limit young peo­ple be­cause of our own in­se­cu­ri­ties and hang-ups; nei­ther can we os­tracise them or de­prive ev­ery child of per­sonal growth and de­vel­op­ment. At the end of it all, it is the chil­dren who will suf­fer. A child's short­com­ings should be fairly ac­knowl­edged, in or­der for them to be right­fully ad­dressed. This is the only way we, as a so­ci­ety, can do jus­tice to ev­ery child and help to pave the most se­cure foun­da­tions for our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions."

When will fair and ad­e­quate op­por­tu­ni­ties be af­forded all Saint Lu­cian stu­dents re­gard­less of race, colour, creed, class and abil­ity?

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