Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Learning Disorders Symposium UWI WJC Part 1





 When I volunteered to assist grade 2 students at Chetwood Memorial Primary School with learning to read, I became aware that some of them had specific problems which I was unqualified to diagnose and treat.  Mrs. Campbell, the principal, told me that, even if they were diagnosed, there were insufficient facilities to accommodate them, so the school had no choice but to move them through the grades.  It is heartbreaking that many children gain very little from their experience at school, and in the process become frustrated and alienated. However, efforts are now being made to give these children assistance.
I was pleased to hear more about this in a Symposium
“Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real” put on by the Association of Future Psychologists, a service club at the Western Campus of the University of the West Indies. This symposium addressed learning disabilities in addition to other reasons why children don’t learn.    
     The need for this symposium was highlighted in a video in which the following questions were posed to students on the campus: “What are learning disorders? Can you name them? What schools in Western Jamaica cater to students with learning disorders?” The responses showed that many students knew very little about this subject.
Anita Baker,
President, Association of
Future Psychologists

In her welcome, Anita Baker, President of The Future Psychologists service club, stressed that learning disorders affect not only the children with these disorders, but also their parents and families. Pointing out that a learning disorder may not always be detrimental, she quoted from the actor Orlando Blume, who labelled dyslexia “a very great gift, which is the way that your mind can think creatively”.

Dr. Ann Shaw-Salmon
The first speaker was Dr. Ann Shaw Salmon, D. Phil (NCU); MSc in Educational Leadership (Conn State University); BA. She began her teaching career with a diploma from Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College. She is now the dynamic, optimistic, Principal of Mt Salem Primary and Junior High. She spoke about “Our Journey with ASTEP”.

ASTEP – Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme was introduced in 2011 to cater to students who had failed 4 attempts at the Grade 4 Literacy Test and were therefore ineligible to sit GSAT (Grade 6 Achievement Test) to qualify for a place in Grade 7 in a secondary programme. 163 schools were designated as ASTEP centres, which were supposed to be staffed with extra teachers and physical resources. At Mt Salem Primary and Junior High 73 students were tested and ranged from remedial to requiring special education. 14% were below pre-primary level, 36% were at pre-primary level, 36% were at primary level (i.e. ready for grade 1) and the others at grades 1 and 2.
     The reasons for the students’ poor performance were not only learning disabilities – dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, but some also suffered from disruptive behaviour disorders such as ADD, ADH and conduct disorders; and some were emotionally disturbed. Their learning problems included learned hopelessness, defensiveness (making excuses), fear of failure, anxiety and alienation. They had difficulties with remembering, had poor social interactions, were easily annoyed, “giddy in the head”, disruptive, loud and boisterous. They used indecent language, they played truant and were involved in fighting, stone-throwing, gambling and stealing.
     They had no parental guidance and had poor nutrition. They were in need of love and affection, patience and guidance. Some students were grieving the loss of parents or other close relatives; some were barrel children i.e. parents were abroad;  some were latch-key children with parents working, so not there for them; some parents were in prison. Some parents refused to cooperate with the school and were unwilling to get help with parenting. Given this scenario, it is a wonder that the ASTEP Centres were able to do anything.
     However, the Mt Salem centre turned out to be a model to be emulated. Dr. Shaw Salmon found that if the teachers show love, there is success. The students at this centre, in addition to being taught basic literacy and numeracy, were also taught skills, including how to make natural juices, and cooking, including making pizza. They had outside presenters and went to the craft market to learn how to make bracelets and necklaces. They also had an agricultural project, and a band. These activities showed the students the importance of being literate and numerate. Having received this special attention, they were encouraged to give back to those less fortunate than themselves.
     In spite of these achievements, the ASTEP  programme is being phased out and replaced by a series of tests in the lower grades of the primary schools, designed to allow for earlier diagnosis and intervention. Mr. Karl Watson from the Ministry of Education was the  speaker at the symposium who addressed this topic. I will write about this in a future blog post.  





4 comments:

Anita Baker said...

Thanks much Helen you captured the message well. Looking forward to part 2

pinkokaw said...

Excellent work Helen. I like your style of writing; inviting and engaging especially for those who were never there. Wanting to read some of your books.

pinkokaw said...

Excellent work Helen

pinkokaw said...

Excellent work Helen