Jan 06, 2015 News
Infrastructural and other facilities will have to be given keen attention if the Ministry of Education, and Guyana by extension, is to truly boast of universal education at all levels. This assertion was recently made by President of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), Mr. Mark Lyte.
He said that while many measures have been put in place by the Ministry to embrace the notion of inclusive education there is still more that must be done.
“We have to look at facilities that will allow the schools, across the country, to function in a way that they should that would fully see us realising inclusive education,” said Lyte. Some schools are lacking the requisite features that would allow for them to perform to their best, he added.
“If we are going to talk about universal primary education (for instance) we have to talk about all schools having equal access to similar facilities; we have to talk about ensuring that there is inclusive education at each school.
“Here we should be seeing the ramps (to allow access to wheelchair bound children)…and we don’t have some of those basic things in place at some of our schools.”
Lyte, who is both a teacher for more than two decades and a lecturer at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) – the premier teachers training institution, many teachers currently within the public education system are not even trained to teach children with special needs education.
Lyte pointed out that if a child with special needs is placed in a class of 35, that child will be lost in terms of the teaching/learning process. And even if a teacher was trained to deal with children with special needs, Lyte questioned, “How can that teacher teach a normal group of children along with that special needs child?”
Although CPCE has been known to offer Special Needs programmes, Lyte said that these are not adequate enough to prepare teachers to teach special needs children. “All of these things say to us that we are not ready; we are not where we can be clear that it (education) is universal, and that equal access is available to everyone, because currently it is not like that,” insisted Lyte.
Commenting on class sizes, the GTU President said that a class of 35 children, though too large is often the size of many classrooms, and therefore remains an issue that the Union has been looking to have addressed with urgency even as attention is being directed to inclusive education.
The issue of inclusive education has been one that has been gaining attention from many education stakeholders. Former Chief Education Officer, Ed Caesar, at the most recent graduation ceremony of teachers from CPCE weighed-in on the issue, and also spoke of the need for the teacher training institution to fully embrace the notion of inclusive education by ensuring that teachers and lecturers alike acquire, at least, the minimum competencies to function in an inclusive education environment.
Although inclusive in education is deemed an approach to educate students with different learning abilities, here in Guyana the term speaks mostly to including children with special needs in the mainstream classrooms.
But according to Caesar, embracing inclusive education has not been a notion that is often readily accepted. He recalled being offered the privilege of presenting the feature address at a GTU Biennial Congress where he was able to deliberate extensively on inclusive education. His utterances there would allow him to be subsequently included on a televised programme to again speak on the issue.
Caesar however, recounted that at least two callers to the very programme were adamant that they did not want their children to be schooled with children with disabilities.
“How selfish can we get?” questioned Caesar as he intimated that many ‘normal’ children are in fact, not in a dissimilar situation to that of children with disabilities upon entry to the school system.
In 2012, the Education Ministry had fast-tracked its efforts towards attaining inclusive education with the observance of Education Month being, ‘Transforming the nation through inclusive education’.
This strategic move, according to Manickchand, even then was aimed at ensuring that children within the special needs population are included in the education system.
Speaking of the issue too was former Head of the Special Education Unit, Karen Hall, who said that in order for inclusive education to really work in Guyana, “we have to find ways to make it work.”
She referred 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 informed.
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. 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, according to Hall.
“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.
Currently, the Education Ministry has before the Parliament a New Education Bill, which has a component that deals specifically with the delivery of education to students with special needs. The Bill outlines that “the special education programme may take the form of an individual education plan tailored to suit the specific or individual needs of the student concerned.”
And according to Minister Manickchand, the passage of the Bill is one that she anxiously awaits.
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