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Special Education | A Practical Approach

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:34 AM
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Under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, to which Jamaica is a signatory, every child has the right to an education. This includes children with varying levels of disability or challenges.

There are two schools of thought that parents should consider when selecting a school for a special needs child, these are inclusion and exclusion.

Inclusion

This is the practice of teaching students with special needs in regular classes with the necessary accommodations and services.

Exclusion

This is the practice of teaching students with special needs at facilities that only offers special education. The teaching style, classrooms, curriculum is geared towards special education.

WHICH IS BETTER: A SCHOOL THAT PRACTICES INCLUSION OR EXCLUSION?

Both methods have their pros and cons and parents must bear in mind which arrangement would better suit their child and their family.

INCLUSION/MAINSTREAM

Positives

* Child will not feel "different" or isolated because of their challenges.

* Child can excel in other areas like the arts and music if academics is not their strong suit

* Sometimes a child's academic results are boosted by the competition at regular schools compared to their counterparts in exclusionary schools.

* Support from peers. A child who is in a mainstream class will be able to see the majority of her class sitting and listening and try to do the same.

* They will learn how to deal in an environment that more reflects society, in that they will have to find their niche and skills adjacent to persons who do not face the same challenges.

Drawbacks

* Not all challenges can be accommodated. Some challenges are so unpredictable and intense that they need to be handled by teachers and staff that are expert in special education

* Incontinent students pose a health risk

* School lacks infrastructure to handle special needs students. For example students in wheelchairs will have difficulty at a school that has several floors and no ramps

* The financial burden on the school and/or the parent to make the classroom suitable for special education

Inclusion Education Checklist

If a parent has chosen a school that has an inclusive special education programme, there are certain things they should consider before enrolling the child. Here is a checklist:

* Does this school have a special education curriculum or a special education unit?

* Is there infrastructure for my child's mobility equipment, for example ramps for wheelchairs?

* Does the school have teaching aids for special needs children, for example Braille computers, special pens, teaching aids on staff?

* What is the school's attitude towards special education?

* What are the facilities in place to deal with medical emergencies?

* If my child is incontinent can the school handle that?

* Am I allowed to send a shadow with my child?

* How will my child get to and from therapy sessions or doctor appointments?

* How will my child get to school and other appointments?

* What is the school's position on multiple or long absences?

EXCLUSION/SPECIAL EDUCATION INSTITUTION

Positives

* The cost to send a child to an established special education institution is substantially lower than the cost to cover the adjustments required to send him/her to regular school

* Special education schools understand and are sympathetic to their needs and to the family

* The relevant support staff is in place as a matter of protocol, doctors, speech therapists, teacher's aids

* School can handle incontinence issues

* School will be more sympathetic to long absences

* Class sizes are smaller

* Intense multifaceted program

* Curriculum and assessment is geared functionality and academics

Drawbacks

* Lack of Community - special education schools are scarce in Jamaica and are not located in the students' home neighbourhoods. Because of this the child will not get to know the children that live around him/her

* Lack of Role Models- all the children in the class will not be around any regularly developing children that could be seen as positive examples on how to behave in class.

* Lack of Proper Social Interactions- the opportunities for healthy, positive social interactions with peers decrease because the people around them also have problems with social interactions.

* Lack of Electives and Extracurricular Activities- Students in special schools are not usually offered elective courses since the focus of a special education classroom is to provide students basic skills. Students are frequently not offered art, music or dance classes like other children in regular classrooms.

WHERE CAN PARENTS FIND SUPPORT/GET HELP?

* Child's doctor/local clinic

* School administration

* Ministry of Social Security (14 National Heroes Circle, Tel: 876-922-8000-9; Toll Free: 1-888-991-2089)

All parents with special needs children must register them at the Ministry of Social Security's Early Stimulation Programme. If you need financial assistance, the child can be placed on the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).

For more information on how to educate children with special needs in Jamaica, see diGJamaica's website: http://www.diGJamaica.com/special_education. diGJamaica is the Gleaner's research and data website built specifically to address a need to make data about Jamaica more accessible, relateable, easy-to-use and easy-to-understand.