Special Education Co-ordinator at the Ministry of Education, Dr. Michelle Meredith, has described the recent special education conference in Ocho Rios, St. Ann, as successful, with possibilities for regional discussions regarding the issues related to the subject area.
Dr. Meredith told JIS News that the objectives of the conference were met. These included promoting awareness of the nature and needs of students with exceptionalities; providing an opportunity for professional development and increasing skill sets among educators and paraprofessionals; and extending and advancing the discussion for special education in local and regional contexts.
"There is a buzz of conversation and a greater appreciation for the efforts of special educators and advocacy groups who have seen to the provision of services for this population of students," Dr. Meredith said, while explaining that the objective of strengthening and establishing a network of professional practitioners in the field will unfold over time.
She pointed out that the Ministry has forged and sustained valuable and very productive relationships with agencies and organisations serving students with special needs, such as the Mico CARE Centre. "Our intention is to solidify and redefine these relationships to ensure a more comprehensive and cohesive model of service delivery," she added.
Some 600 persons participated in the conference that catered to special and general educators, parents, school administrators, teacher educators, care and protective service agencies, among other stakeholders.
The Co-ordinator explained that based on the Ministry's most recent census, there could be as many as 4,600 special needs students in special education facilities.
"These are children with documented and categorised disabilities that warrant them receiving special education. We may be serving approximately 2,000 in intervention programmes across the island," she informed, while conceding that "there is likely to be a larger number of students with undetected or undiagnosed needs."
In going forward, Dr. Meredith says she is confident in the Ministry's stance on special education.
"We could say the Ministry is moving towards improved efforts to meet the needs of students with exceptionalities, which include both low functioning and high functioning students," she noted.
The conference was held under the theme: ‘Access, Equity and Relevance: Critical considerations for students with special needs'.
CONTACT: ODETTE BARRON