• Feature
    Jamaican Sign Language Interpreter, Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD), Hughen Spencer (left); Professor, Speech, Pathology and Audiology at Calvin College, United States of America, Dr. Brian Kreisman (second left); Education Officer, Special Education Unit in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Christina Addington (centre); and Ministry of Health and Wellness representative, Dr. Richard Musaazi (second right) pay keen attention to Executive Director, Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD), Tashi Widmer, who is communicating with the group using sign language. The occasion was the recently held ‘Reach to Teach’ Forum on Deaf Education at the Mona School of Business and Management (North), University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus.
    Photo: Dave Reid

    Story Highlights

    • The Special Education Policy, once approved and implemented, will make it mandatory for teachers serving students with special needs to be adequately trained and certified.
    • Teachers will be required to collaborate with the relevant units or departments of the Ministry to design and implement programmes to address the personal, emotional, social and independent living skills of students with exceptionalities.
    • She is advocating for those with special needs who demonstrate the aptitude and ability, to be able to participate in national assessments and provided with the relevant resources to facilitate their best performance.

    The Special Education Policy, once approved and implemented, will make it mandatory for teachers serving students with special needs to be adequately trained and certified.

    The policy, drafted by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information’s Special Education Unit, is currently before Cabinet.

    It will complement the Disabilities Act, which makes provision to safeguard and enhance the welfare of persons with disabilities across Jamaica.

    Speaking at a recent stakeholder meeting in Kingston, Education Officer in the Special Education Unit, Christina Addington, said that a critical aspect of the policy is ensuring that institutions are staffed with qualified special educators, who are trained to provide the specialised instructional support required by students.

    She noted that teachers serving students with exceptionalities, must be certified in the area of special education relevant to the population with which they work.

    “We know that in some instances, persons are not trained in the field in which they are working. Usually, it is years of service or just because that is your area of interest. However, once the policy is in [effect], teachers will have to be trained in the area they wish to serve,” she pointed out.

    In addition, teachers must complete a minimum of 15 hours of professional development training in special education each three-year period.

    “Once this policy takes effect, no more will it be, ‘well, I feel like attending the summer training institute; I think I will go’. No. It will be mandatory. At the end of every three years you will have to show the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) that you have done your 15 hours of in-service training of professional development,” Mrs. Addington said.

    The Special Education official noted that the policy was crafted to “guide us and guide the system in ensuring that the educational requirements of children and youth with special needs are met”.

    “It has to be interpreted and adapted for each group of learner,” she noted.

    The two main goals of the policy are ensuring equity and access to educational opportunities, and promoting a system of inclusive education where possible.

    It protects special needs students against discrimination, promotes awareness of their right to quality education, and ensures that they are provided with the necessary accommodations they need in the educational setting that are relevant to their identified needs and abilities.

    “This policy acknowledges that education is a fundamental right of every child. All children are recognised as unique individuals and, as such, are valued equally,” Mrs. Addington said.

    She noted that under the policy, each student in a special education programme must have an Individualised Instructional Plan (IIP) written to address the identified goals for knowledge, skill or behaviour.

    Class size must reflect suitable teacher-pupil ratios, with provision for teaching support and relevant instructional materials.

    Teachers will be required to collaborate with the relevant units or departments of the Ministry to design and implement programmes to address the personal, emotional, social and independent living skills of students with exceptionalities.

    Mrs. Addington said that the curriculum provided must prepare students for life beyond school and should include school-to-work transition and vocational training.

    Strong focus must be placed on creativity, communication and collaboration, she said, in keeping with the National Standards Curriculum (NSC), which is aimed at improving the general academic performance, attitude and behaviour of students.

    “It is not just about what is happening in the classroom. The curriculum is geared at helping these children understand themselves as unique individuals,” she noted.

    Mrs. Addington said that every effort should be made to place students receiving special education services in the least restrictive environment in order to facilitate effective educational and training outcomes.

    “When we talk about the least restrictive educational setting, we are talking about an environment in which the social services will be provided, so we are looking at the correct setting, the correct personnel, and the correct materials and accommodations,” she noted.

    Mrs. Addington said that all students have the right to be included in the general education system.

    She is advocating for those with special needs who demonstrate the aptitude and ability, to be able to participate in national assessments and provided with the relevant resources to facilitate their best performance.