Special education policy before Cabinet

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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MINISTER of Education, Youth and Information Senator Ruel Reid says the Special Education Policy, aimed at providing a framework to meet the educational needs of special students, is now before Cabinet for approval.

He was speaking at the 2018 Annual Conference of the Association of Principals and Vice-Principals of Secondary Schools, held at Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort and Spa on October 14.

The policy, drafted by the ministry's Special Education Unit, will complement the Disabilities Act, which makes provision to safeguard and enhance the welfare of persons with disabilities across Jamaica.

Its two main goals are ensuring equity and access to educational opportunities; and to promote a system of inclusive education where possible.

The policy seeks to protect the rights of children and youth with disabilities against discrimination in educational settings, and it promotes awareness of the students' right to quality education. In addition, it will ensure that students are provided with the necessary accommodations they need in the educational setting.

Senator Reid noted that over the last academic year, the ministry increased the support for students with special needs by providing additional caregivers through the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) Programme.

“Over 60 families are benefiting from this programme, which allows students with special needs to remain in their community schools and be educated among their peers, while receiving the support needed to function effectively in the school environment,” he explained.

“This includes several students in rural Jamaica who are blind and would have otherwise had to board in Kingston to attend the (Salvation Army) School for the Blind,” he noted.

The minister said, further, that a new Curriculum for Students with Moderate to Profound Intellectual Disabilities was recently launched in partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

It addresses language and communication, mathematics, science, physical education, music and life skills.

“This curriculum seeks to provide students with daily living skills… and a level of social skills that will assist him/her to interact appropriately with family and the wider community,” Senator Reid noted.

Meanwhile, new special education centres were opened at Church Teachers' College in Mandeville and Sam Sharpe Teachers' College in Montego Bay at the start of the new academic year.

These, along with the Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Academy in Westmoreland, and the Lyssons Centre of Excellence in St Thomas, which were opened in 2017, add to the facilities established across the island that provide support for children with special needs.

Senator Reid said the ministry has undertaken to provide financial and technical support for a new programme at the School for Therapy Education and Parenting of Children with Multiple Disabilities (STEP Centre) in Kingston.

“This programme targets students at the early childhood level who have physical disabilities and are also visually impaired. The programme is intended to equip these students to transition to the primary level,” he noted.

He said that the Special Education Unit provides Braille and large-print material for persons who are blind or visually impaired.

In addition, students with special needs are able to receive accommodation for national examinations.

This may include extended time, readers/writers, examination in alternative format (Braille/large print), breaks or prompters,” he added, noting that a psycho-educational assessment report or a medical report must be presented with a request for accommodation to register for a national exam.

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