Thursday, April 14, 2016

Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real Part 2

Mr. Karl Watson
This is the 2nd of 3 posts I am writing about 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. Mr. Karl Watson was the final speaker at the symposium, but what he had to say flows logically from Dr. Shaw Salmon’s presentation, the subject of my 1st post. She told us about the children who end up in Grade 7 with poor or non-existent reading abilities. Mr. Watson, who is a Regional Special Needs Coordinator with the Ministry of Education, explained the strategies which will be used to identify and address children’s special needs at the earliest possible time. He was an entertaining speaker, frequently replacing his references to “the government” by “sorry, the previous government”, it being only a week after the general election. I am sure he is happy that the new minister has assured the nation that policies will remain the same. He began his address by pinpointing some of the landmarks in Special Education, and lamenting some attitudes.
      For children with special needs:
  1928 saw the establishment of the Salvation Army School for the Blind, and in
  1938  Rev. F.W. Gilby established the Jamaica Schoolfor the Deaf .
     There was no provision for children with intellectual disabilities until 1956, when the Randolph Lopez School of Hope was established.
      In 1975 Jamaica benefitted from a bi-lateral arrangement with the Netherlands government, through which the following were established:
  • A formal teacher training programme in special education at the Mico Teachers’ College (now Mico University College)
  • The Mico Child Assessment and Research in Education (CARE) Centre for diagnostic and therapeutic services for children across the region.
  • Seven (7) self-contained special education units in primary schools, offering intensive instruction for children with special educational needs
At that time, there was reluctance among primary schools to house the special education units because of the stigma attached to special ed. children. Mr. Watson found, during a feasibility study he conducted 3 years ago, that the fear of stigmatization still exists.  
In developed countries, the pendulum has swung from having special schools to including children with special needs having their needs addressed in mainstream schooling. The debate continues about whether this is the best approach. In Jamaica, in 2004, a Task Force on Educational Reform presented its findings to the Ministry of Education, resulting in the Education System Transformation Programme  (ESTP). Implementation of the recommendations has been ongoing since 2005. Among the major activities of ESTP is the improvement of provisions for Special Education.

To effect these improvements, a National Special Needs Coordinator (Dr. Meredith) was appointed, together with Regional Special Needs Coordinators for each of the 7 regions. Regional Assessment Teams consisting of 2 psychologists and 2 diagnosticians were set up. One of their first activities was to identify children with special needs – 7628 were identified in 302 schools. In response, work has begun to establish 20 additional pull-out classrooms and 2 additional self-contained Special Ed Units. A system of early identification and referral, supported by Regional Assessment Teams has begun. The MOE continues to provide examination accommodation for children sitting national examinations.

Over 3000 teachers and MOE personel  have benefitted from training in several areas including strategies to identify special educational needs; Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) for work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders; Proficiency Pathway: A guide for instruction and intervention at the primary level; and Positive Behaviour Support and restorative discipline.

The Special Education Unit in the MOE cannot operate in isolation and requires the support of other agencies. Aspects of support include    
  • Continued collaboration with the Guidance Counseling Unit of the MoE; and the Child Guidance Clinic of the Ministry of Health.
  • The recently launched diagnostic and therapy clinic for pre-school children at VOUCH, in conjunction with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (October 2014).
  • Mobilization for the establishment of three diagnostic centres at Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College in St James, Church Teachers’ College in Manchester, and the College of Agriculture Science and Education in Portland. These are scheduled for completion by 2016. 

There will also be more public education for parents with regards to special ed.

The most important step in providing education tailored to suit every individual is the early identification of their needs. Hence the introduction of assessment before grade 1. Based on this assessment each child would be deemed ready, not quite ready or not ready and taught accordingly. At the end of Grade 2, there is a diagnostic test to monitor progress. Towards the end of Grade 4, there will continue to be literacy and numeracy tests. In 2018, GSAT will be replaced by the Primary Exit Profile (PEP). Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme (ASTEP) will be replaced by Alternative Pathways for Secondary Education (APSE).
At the launch of APSE

At every level in the education system, efforts will be made to teach children in the way they can learn and for them to use their abilities to the optimum. Quoting from the Nathan Ebanks Foundation Conference on Inclusion “Creating Pathways to Inclusive Education”:
The outcome we desire cannot be accomplished with ‘chalk and talk’; as Aristotle said: ‘Educating the mind, without educating the heart is no education at all’. We need the engagement and involvement of all concerned at every level, since ‘Education is not preparation for life ... education is life itself’ (John Dewey).





pinkokaw said...

A perfect way to end this articleEducation is not preparation for life ... education is life itself’ (John Dewey).... this is an excellent review. Keep up the goid work Helen.

pinkokaw said...

A perfect way to end this articleEducation is not preparation for life ... education is life itself’ (John Dewey).... this is an excellent review. Keep up the goid work Helen.

Anita Baker said...

Thanks a lot Helen a lot of this information I had missed due to me being busy making things run smoothly. You are doing a good job covering the symposium and is helping to get the information out way more than we could have. Thank you.