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More should be done to help special-needs students - Bowes-Howell

Published:Thursday | March 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Nadisha Hunter, Staff Reporter

CHAIRMAN OF the special education committee of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), Dr Polly Bowes-Howell, has painted a dismal picture of the care given to children with special needs in Jamaica.

Bowes-Howell said the JTA has just concluded a screening exercise on 21 schools in Stony Hill, and the results are worrying.

"The data coming to us show that we have to go out there with a searchlight. There are children in grade one who cannot and are not benefiting from the curriculum because they don't understand it, and you can't ask a teacher to modify or differentiate it when she has no knowledge of special education," Bowes-Howell said.

She was speaking with The Gleaner on Tuesday following the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a new centre for the School for Therapy, Education and Parenting of Children with Multiple Disabilities at 4 Tremaine Avenue, Kingston.

"We would want to use this to inform policy because one area that came out was that of nutrition. There were also children having problem with their eyes, hygiene problem, hearing problem. We had the Jamaica Diabetes Association helping us and it is alarming what we have found," she further argued.

Trained persons needed

Bowes-Howell said more trained persons are needed to help students who are challenged and intervention should start at an early stage, so that students are given the opportunity to realise their full potential.

"The students in the ASTEP (Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme) have fallen through the cracks and we should not wait until they reach grade four. They have been destroyed because when you kill a child's self-esteem, it is not good. Immediately after they go into grade one, no child should move out without intervention," she said.

Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites said the country has a significant problem with children with educational deficiencies, but the Ministry of Education is working to ensure children who are challenged are given the needed attention.

"The recent surveys show that perhaps 28 per cent of our student body is somewhere on the spectrum between mild and severe disabilities. That is very high and it, therefore, places upon us a tremendous responsibility to respond," the minister said.

The new building for the ASTEP centre is being funded by the Digicel Foundation to the tune of $28 million.