Flexible regulations required for inclusive education – Head Special Ed. Unit
The aim of inclusive education in Guyana is to ensure that students who are differently-able are provided with a level of education that is on par with that obtained by other students. This disclosure was made by Head of the Ministry of Education’s Special Education Unit, Ms Karen Hall even as she echoed the special needs education convictions of Minister of Education Priya Manickchand.
The Minister in her attempt to amplify the importance of special needs education coined the theme for Education Month, ‘Transforming the nation through inclusive education’, which according to her, speaks to including the special needs population in the education system.
However, Hall in an interview with this publication said that in order for inclusive education to really work in Guyana, “we have to find ways to make it work.”
She made reference to rigid laws and practices in the national framework that are currently in place. These must become a bit flexible and responsive for true inclusive education to be realised, she said.
She added that at the moment regulations do not allow for as few as two teachers to facilitate classrooms that include students with special needs. She noted that in encouraging inclusive education, about three teachers may be required in a single classroom at a time – a teacher-aid to deal directly with those with special needs, the subject teacher and the special education teacher.
“We definitely have to be a bit more flexible even in the way we view, for example, the number of teachers we assign to a school. We will have to build that component into our system where if there is a special needs child a school won’t be considered overstaffed with three extra teachers. These are the things that we need to work on and work on pretty quickly,” Hall insisted.
Hall has been the head of the Special Education Unit since 2009 and has been seeking to have a number of measures implemented to amplify the importance of special needs education.
Primary among her expectations is the implementation of a special needs policy which has already been drafted and presented to the Minister of Education.
Already consultations have been held in Berbice, Linden and Georgetown regarding the policy, a move which is required ahead of it being taken to Cabinet for consideration.
Among some of the areas that the policy addresses is the need for a national evaluation or assessment identifying children with special needs from the nursery level and tracking them throughout their school lives.
Also, the draft policy has highlighted the need for each teacher in the special needs education arena to be trained to specialise in a specific area of special education.
“Children are growing and new children are coming into the system with disabilities and we have to get our act together to really support them,” Hall noted as she spoke of her vision for inclusive education.
With the implementation of the proposed policy each special need child will benefit from an individual education plan; each primary school will be required to have at least one teacher responsible for special needs education while interpreters/signers will be assigned to schools that have deaf students and a braillist for those institutions with visually impaired students.
The policy also caters to the provision of a learning needs specialist for the various regions. “We can do it; we just have to put things together and be a lot more vigilant and a lot less rigid. Placement services like the Teaching Services Commission will have to come on board also for this to be effective because it can be a frustrating experience for parents who believe their children should have a better service,” Hall said.
According to her, too, the ever-rapid change of teachers due to migration and other reasons will require “training persons continually to ensure that the relevant teachers are in place.
“We need to accommodate our special needs children in every way. In fact we need to have special needs knowledge be an integral part of the Ministry…it must be known by every facet of the education sector from the guard right up to the Minster,” Hall asserted.
The efforts of the Special Needs Education Unit has seen a number of teachers in most of the regions being trained in this area and according to Hall the unit is aiming to ensure that all regions are included by next year. Additionally the unit has been working with parents to empower them to become a small national network that drives special education for their children.
Thus far, a Parent/Teacher Association symposium has been held and some school-based interventions have been engaged with support from Peace Corps Guyana, Hall said.
Support from the Peace Corps has been in the area of behavioural management, deaf education and reading for children with severe special needs.
“Slowly we are beginning to form a national framework on special education and we are developing skilled persons to work throughout the country within the different regions.”