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  • Work will begin next month on three diagnostic and care centres for students with special education needs in rural Jamaica.
  • The centres will alleviate the need for parents to take their children to Kingston for assessment.
  • The facilities are estimated to cost the Government some $40 million.

Minister of Education, Hon. Rev. Ronald Thwaites, says work will begin next month on the establishment of three diagnostic and care centres to cater to students with special education needs in rural Jamaica.

“Construction is starting in December at Sam Sharpe (Teachers’ College in St. James) for the construction of the centre there and we have existing space at Church Teachers’ College (in Manchester) and we expect to have space also at CASE (College of Agriculture, Science and Education in Portland) and so we are now sourcing equipment for all three centres,” he said.

The Minister was speaking to journalists on November 7 at the 8th staging of the Caribbean Child Research Conference at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston.

The centres will alleviate the need for parents to take their children to Kingston for assessment at the Mico Child Assessment and Research in Education Centre (CARE), which is currently the only such facility in the island.

“We are using the kind of enablement that MICO Care has had as a template for the other centres; and so we hope that by the end of the first quarter in 2014, they will be up and running,” he said.

The facilities are estimated to cost the Government some $40 million.

Rev. Thwaites said the Ministry will be partnering with universities to ensure the centres will be appropriately staffed with professionals in the area of special education.

“We are going to be asking the universities to assist us with people in particular skills areas that we need – speech therapy, guidance counselling (etcetera), and schools should be able to send children, who they can’t handle to these institutions for diagnosis and for therapy,” he stated.

He noted that the Ministry will be increasing the training of teachers and principals in the schools so that they can recognise the children, who have particular challenges.

The Education Minister said there are also plans to source additional funding for the establishment of a similar centre in Old Harbour to serve the regions of Clarendon and St. Catherine.

Rev. Thwaites stated that the move to establish the facilities is in keeping with Government’s plans to revitalise and transform the education system with special emphasis on early childhood and special education.

He informed that approximately 20 per cent of children in the education system can be categorized as special needs cases.

The two-day Caribbean Child Research Conference, which is being held under theme: ‘Beyond 2015: Safeguarding Our Children’s Future’, aims to examine the progress made since 2000, when many nations committed to eight millennium development goals (MDGs).

It is being staged by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Early Childhood Commission (ECC), Office of the Children’s Advocate, Caribbean Child Development Centre, Office of the Children’s Registry, and Child Development Agency, among others.