Noel Thompson, Freelance Writer
Courtney Smith (left), a teacher at Cumberland All-Age School in Clarendon, conducts an IT lesson with Niyoka Forbes (seated), a sixth-grade student, while Ashley Copeland of grade four looks on. The occasion was the official opening of a new computer laboratory at the school by Dr. Omar Davies, Minister of Finance and Planning, on May 9. Also in attendance was State Minister for Housing, Transport, Water and Works, Richard Azan.
The growing concern among parents in St. James of finding a specialist education unit for children with learning disabilities could be eased within months.
The Ministry of Education and Youth, in collaboration with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) is to construct a special-education school on the campus of the Sam Sharpe Teachers' College in Granville, St. James.
The project, which is estimated to cost $94 million, should get under way by next month and will last for approximately six months.
"This project will cater specifically to children with learning disabilities and other special needs, and should accommodate 400 pupils upon completion," disclosed Joy Douglas, a director at the UDC, as she addressed the monthly meeting of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday.
Specially trained teachers will man the facility.
Seen as underdogs
Vivienne Deokoro, founder and principal of the Deokoro Magnet School for the Gifted and Talented in Montego Bay, has welcomed the move, citing that for too long gifted and talented children had been seen as the underdogs.
"To date, I have not found any official definition of gifted and talented children in Jamaica, and to the best of my knowledge there is no public policy for the education of the gifted and talented in Jamaica. I am therefore calling for clarity to be given to the matter," said Deokoro.
Referring to a national task force study on education report, Douglas said quite a large percentage of Jamaican children had learning disabilities or were challenged.
"It could be that they are gifted children and not retarded or slow, as some may think. What we have in our system is that it might be unable to cope with the child who is gifted or talented, so both sets tend to fall through," said Douglas.
The Education Ministry will finance the construction, while the UDC will oversee its management. A submission is to be made to Cabinet before the work begins.
The specialist unit will not only serve children from St. James, but others across western Jamaica.
"I believe children in the west deserve to have specialised facilities and should not have to be taken into Kingston for many of the needs they have," Douglas said.