Particular wants training not a PR marketing campaign
Features Radica Mahase 7 Hrs Ago
Special needs children continue to be ignored in TT. Photo Courtesy – Tiffany Mohan – Tiffany Mohan
DR RADICA MAHASE
Last week, the Ministry of Education (MoE) posted an “Educational Pathway – for Students with Special Needs” on its website and social media.
There are two separate structures – one for students who are enrolled in a school, and one for students not attending a school.
Not surprisingly, this post was greeted with anger by many parents/caregivers and some educators.
You see, parents/caregivers know the struggles that they are faced with when trying to access an education for their special needs children. Thus, no wonder many parents felt that this “well-structured system” was an insult; that it was deeply misleading and definitely non-existent.
The first step in this “Educational Pathway” (for children enrolled in a school) is that teachers and parents will monitor the student and the teacher will refer the case to the School Based Intervention Team (SBIT), which will then give recommendations on how to address the learning and/or behavioral challenges.
Right away this is a problem – many teachers do not even recognize signs of learning disabilities. There are too many parents who have been told, “Your child is too much trouble,” or, “He too harden,” and, “He doh listen,” and “He can’t sit still” by teachers who simply do not understand these might be signs of a deeper issue.
The teachers who have specialized in special needs education would have learned about hidden disabilities, setting up an inclusive classroom and so on.
However, they are not exactly being placed in schools – there are graduates of UTT with a degree in SPED who have applied to the MoE and have been waiting for years to be assessed, much less to be place in a school.
Educational Pathway – for Students with Special Needs
Photo Courtesy Ministry of Education –
Many teachers have no knowledge of hidden disabilities and insist: “Nothing is wrong with the child, the child is just misbehaving.” With this in mind, is the ministry offering any training for teachers who are in the system and have no special education training, so that they can actually recognize the signs of hidden disabilities?
After that, according to the “Education Pathway,” it appears that the child will get all the help he or she needs. It outlines an ideal system where there is a SBIT and personnel such as guidance counsellors, social workers and special education officers. it speaks about things like evaluation and targeted intervention, individual education plans and monitoring students – a well-structured system in theory.
In reality, this does not exist. As one parent noted, “This was obviously pulled out of a textbook and posted to fool people into believing that the MoE is actually doing something.”
Another parent said, “In no way does this system work or is even accurate. It looks like the MoE copied another country’s special education plan and is trying to pass it off as something it is doing here in TT.”
It is also important to note that this system focuses almost completely around the Student Support Services Division (SSSD) – a division that has been ineffective in many ways. In 2020, Dr Dennis Conrad, director of SSSD, noted that it is “understaffed, under-resourced, overburdened even before the pandemic and the pandemic had exacerbated the situation.” In March 2021, at the fifth virtual meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Hybrid Learning, it was noted that SSSD has never been more than 20 per cent staffed, including administrative staff.
Did this situation change drastically since 2021? Has there been an increase in the number of personnel employed in the SSSD? What about aides for students? Certainly, there must have been some major changes for the MoE to have posted this “Education Pathway.” For this clearly gives the idea that there is a well-structured system in place for special needs education.
If this “Educational Pathway” was meant to bring good PR for the MoE, it certainly did not accomplish that. One only has to read the comments detailing parents’ experiences to see the extent of the differences between the MoE’s structure and the reality of special needs education in this country.
If the MoE’s intention was to post this as an ideal system, then it needs to make that known that this is what it would like to implement, rather than make it appear the system is already in place now. It is highly misleading and certainly an insult to all those children who have either been denied an education outright or who have not been getting a good-enough quality education that caters to their special needs. Special needs education is much more than just a good PR campaign.
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T