Technocrats in the Ministry of Education are “unable to say” how many students from the Special Needs School have successfully completed the mainstream school system during the last 10 years.
“The technocrats within the Ministry of Education were unable to provide me with the information requested,” Minister of Education and National Reconciliation, Curtis King told Parliament on Monday.
He was responding to a question from opposition lawmaker, Shevern John.
“I must say though, that the Ministry of Education has done considerable work in the area of special needs education,” said King, a retired educator, who has ministerial responsibility for primary and secondary education.
John, a former educator, had also asked the minister to state what provisions were made for the successful transition of the students who were placed into the mainstream secondary schools this school year from the School for Children with Special Needs, especially at the Georgetown Secondary School.
King told Parliament that his ministry created a student support services unit, which offers “quite a number of services, including providing students with the opportunity to access otherwise expensive diagnostic services for learning challenges”.
He said the Curriculum Unit is staffed with professionals who continue to provide the Ministry of Education and schools with expert guidance and service in this area.
The St. Vincent and Grenadines Community College, in conjunction with the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus, has just completed the training of 37 teachers in the area of special needs education.
“We are making significant strides to improve the quality of education in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and to ensure that educational services offered are inclusive.”
The minister said that at the Fair Hall Primary School, “quite a number of students with special needs” are in their fourth year of pupillage pursuing secondary education.
He said that as the ministry continues to improve its system, it recognises that there is a need to strengthen its data collection mechanisms.
“So, while I cannot provide an exact number, for those students who completed mainstream schooling over the last 10 years, I can say that persons have and will continue to be integrated in the mainstream education system. And that we will continue to ensure that the mainstream school system is inclusive.”
King said the Ministry of Education, through the World Bank-funded Human Development Service Delivery Project, is deepening the discussion on the introduction of inclusive education that will allow for the formal integration and support for students who are differently abled at both spectrums of the education system.
“The students who are regarded as the high fliers and those with learning deficiencies to ensure the fulfilment of the mantra that every learner succeeds and no child is left behind. Under the HDSP, the ministry has engaged external consultants and is working towards coordinating study tours for a team of professionals to aid in implementation.”
He said there are two students who are visually impaired and two who are hearing impaired enrolled at Georgetown Secondary School.
“I actually visited that school I met with them,” King said, adding that at Adelphi Secondary School, there is enrolled a visually-impaired student, whose impairment is not at the same level of the students at the Georgetown Secondary School.
He said the Ministry of Education is working assiduously to provide the necessary structures to make the educational journey of all students, particularly those with disabilities, a rewarding experience.
“It is the ministry’s deliberate intention that students are equipped with the necessary resources to attain their fullest potential.
He said that during the week-long orientation session at Georgetown Secondary School, teachers from the School for Children With Special Needs conducted presentations on disabilities and how to cater to students with disabilities.
King said education officers continue to make routine visits to the school.
“Here, they provided guidance and seating arrangements, tips on teacher-students and student-student interactions, teaching and assessment methods and strategies. They have also spoken to the students to ascertain their immediate and long term needs and will continue to monitor their progress to ensure their needs are met.”
He said his ministry has provided teaching resources to be used in literacy classes, science equipment or kits that can be used by the visually impaired, talking calculators and, among other things, large print clocks.
“There is also a teacher assigned to work with the hearing-impaired students. We have also provided laptops to be used by the students.”
He said the ministry has sourced a screen reader, which will be installed on these laptops to enhance the technological gains and is working on the employment of teacher assistants for these students.
“These assistants are not yet in place, because we are being very meticulous, so that the best fit is provided. Here, consideration must be given not only to academic qualifications, but also to soft skills, such as empathy, open mindedness, problem-solving abilities, adaptability and willingness to learn,” he said.
King said the Cabinet recently supported a request to source certain teaching and student aids to facilitate the students, adding that the government intends “to do what we can to ensure that these students are not at a disadvantage when it comes to their education”.