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Right teacher, wrong class! - Trained special-needs teachers teaching music and PE

Published:Tuesday | September 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Hixwell Douglas
Dr Michele Meredith

Despite a severe shortage of teachers trained to deal with children with mental and intellectual disabilities, some of the country's 249 special-needs educators are currently not employed in this area.

However, the Education System Transformation Programme plans to move these teachers into the area where their skills are needed.

Special education coordinator for the programme, Dr Michele Meredith, says some of these teachers are teaching subjects such as physical education and music with 202 working at the primary level and 47 at the secondary level.

"One of our thrusts is to get them back, perhaps to re-tool where we can re-tool them and have them functioning as they are trained to," Meredith told The Gleaner.

There have been mounting calls for more special-needs educators in the formal system given the challenges being faced by general educators who have to deal with children with mild learning and intellectual disability.

More than 6,500 suspected cases of children with mild learning and intellectual disability have been referred to the Education System Transformation Programme since the launch of its Child Find initiative in 2011.

These students were selected from five of the six education regions and have been given psycho-educational assessments.

"The purpose of the Child Find is early identification, early intervention (and) that is one of the trumpets of the special education project and the special education activity," said Meredith.

"Once we find them early, we can provide for them early. That is fairly new and so that might answer the question as to why it is that parents are now having their children tested for the first time, because it was not always done," added Meredith.

Dr Hixwell Douglas, assistant chief education officer in Special Education Unit in the education ministry, said the members of the Education System Transformation Programme have also organised a number of capacity-building workshops for educators within the general school setting since it was launched in 2011.

Difficulties working

Douglas noted that some teachers have complained about the difficulty in working with some children with even mild intellectual disability.

"We have been doing workshops in differentiated instructions with those teachers in some schools. We have been doing seminars on teaching boys effectively, since that is popularly a grouping that presents a number of challenges," said Douglas.

"We have been looking at diagnostic prescriptive teaching in our schools and we have been using these approaches to kind of impact what teachers do in the mainstream. We have been looking also at the connections between disabilities and literacy and what teachers need to look for so that they can be very targeted with how they help with their interventions," explained Dr Douglas.

Meredith and Douglas are appealing for a bit more patience as they try to improve the learning environment for children living with disabilities. They pointed to a number of plans in the pipeline to improve the lives of these children.

These include plans to identify and equip special education units within the public school setting for children with mild learning and intellectual disabilities who are not meant for the segregated schools. Each unit will comprise as many as four classrooms that will be able to accommodate as many as 16 students.

"So far, I think we have done about six out of the 20 (units), but we have been given the mandate that, for this academic year, we must establish all 20. This is going to be in the mainstream for children going to regular school and this is how we are trying to integrate some of our students so that they are not stigmatised," said Douglas.

"The aim is to keep children within their natural environment, teach them within their natural environment and provide the teachers with the tools to do it, the technical skills," added Douglas.