Ignorant teachers - Children's Advocate reports that students with learning disabilities are being punished by teachers
Tyrone Reid, Sunday Gleaner Reporter
The Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) has accused some teachers of punishing children with learning disabilities for failing to grasp instructions as quickly as others.
In its 2008-2009 annual report, the OCA also intimated that some of the students might be the victim of floggings at the hands of teachers.
"The OCA has received reports of children being victims of corporal punishment in schools by teachers as a result of their inability to grasp what is being taught as quickly as others."
The report noted that the tragic happenings were brought to the fore at the OCA National Children's Consultation held in 2008.
In addition, the report highlighted that students were being margi-nalised as a result of their learning challenges.
"Where a learning disability exists, many times, children are stigmatised as being stupid and sometimes punished by teachers for not following or not understanding instructions," the report said.
Efforts to get a comment from Michael Stewart, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, were unsuccessful.
Antonica Gunter-Gayle, programmes director of the Early Stimulation Programme - a special scheme that caters to the needs of children with various types of developmental disabilities, including Down's syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy - told our news team that many children with learning disabilities were not being detected and were suffering unduly as a result.
"We do miss a lot of them. Some of them get lost in the system, (and) some of them are labelled as dunce and rude," Gunter-Gayle said.
In highlighting the plight of children with special-education needs, the OCA argued that irrespective of the strides made in education, children with disabilities are still short-staffed by the school system.
The report continued: "Where children with the major disabilities like sight impairment can be easily detected, others with learning abilities, such as dyslexia, are not easily detected."
The OCA report explains that the symptoms of learning disabilities include delayed language skills, trouble rhyming, habitual mispronunciation, persistent baby talk, difficulty in learning letters in simple words, confusion involving words that sound alike, and difficulty following instructions.
The OCA urged that children be observed for symptoms of learning disabilities, the relevant tests carried out, and treatment given to help them to deal with their disability.
"The Early Intervention, Screening and Diagnostic Programme for Children and Households being developed by the Early Childhood Commission is welcome and should be given urgent attention."
The report also said that the screening process must be accompanied by mechanisms to offer adequate services once the children with special needs were identified.
- Too little, too late - Education ministry's slow response to special-needs cases
THE EDUCATION ministry has admitted that its system to identify students with special needs has been.
At present, no widespread screening is done before grade three at the primary level.
"For now, the ministry uses the grade three diagnostic test and Grade Four Literacy Test. We know this is late," conceded Colin Blair, director of communications in the Ministry of Education.
However, he told our news team that a special-education policy was being developed to address the early identification of children with special-education needs.
Blair explained that one aspect of the policy is known as 'child find', which is designed to identify children with special needs, screen and assess them formally to determine their categorisation and placement.
The education ministry is to use academic and cognitive-performance mechanisms to identify those in need of help.
Blair also revealed that the education ministry was looking into starting the identification process at grade one, with individual learning profiles and those children determined to have deficiencies being given help at that stage.
He also pointed out that the ministry had embarked on a re-organising of schools to get special-education institutions to be primary or secondary schools.
"It's being planned that schools will get their own principals. Many schools are satellites of the Randolph Lopez School of Hope and other institutions," Blair stated while pointing out that many of the special-education schools are now composite institutions with both primary and secondary students.
The education ministry also pointed out that the Early Child-hood Commission was developing a child passport mechanism that would have certain key information.
"This will serve as a tool to help identify children with special-education needs at the early childhood level. The passport is to come on stream shortly."
According to Blair, the health ministry plays a role in the early identification of children with special needs through its early stimulation initiatives involving the clinics.
He added that a handbook, with guidelines for referral and identification, was also being developed. The book is to be used by principals and teachers and its design should aid in identifying children who might need to be served outside of the regular education setting.
Additionally, the ministry is also trying to get a course re-introduced or given more prominence in teachers' colleges that is aimed at enabling teachers to identify children with special needs.
A special registry of professionals is also being developed by the ministry which will be made available to parents and guardians of children with special needs.