By Lara Pickford-Gordon
In the new academic year starting September 2020, 21 schools in the seven education districts in Trinidad will pilot an inclusive school project catering for children with special needs.
Head of the Education Ministry’s Student Support Services Division (SSSD), Professor Dennis Conrad said, “We will use the next two terms to facilitate resource development at our schools, provide appropriate professional development for our school administrators and faculty and sensitise students and parents with a view to recognising that the inclusive-schools project is functional and ready for September 2020 in terms of action”.
He explained that the pilot will focus on children identified as having special education needs within the schools, and then move on to children within the education district.
Speaking at a media briefing January 3, at the Ministry’s head office, St Vincent Street, Conrad said the Ministry recently completed three consultations November 15, 18 and 20 which had all the units of the SSSD, representatives of state enterprises and 22 non-governmental organisations “to come up with a localised, relevant response to the needs of all our learners to ensure they have equitable access to education”.
He said the response was encouraging with the recognition that inclusive education was not the sole responsibility of the ministry but a “we thing”. Further discussions will take place with the ministry’s Tobago counterparts.
Some of the recommendations from the consultation were: the need for legislation, a review of the assessment process to expedite the identification of children’s special education needs and interventions, and for all schools to be equipped with the “essentials” to facilitate special education.
There was agreement to collaborate to develop a model of inclusive education which is relevant to T&T instead of taking a model “of inclusive education from other countries which do not reflect what we are facing and try to rubber stamp it.”
Another proposal is an inclusive education council which Conrad hoped would be created by the end of this year, with permission from the Education Minister. Membership will comprise NGOs, and the ministry working together to develop, implement and evaluate a relevant inclusive education model.
In an interview with Catholic News Professor Conrad said while the ministry did have information on children with special needs, depending on the district there may be a higher incidence of intellectual challenges while in another district it could be sensory e.g. hearing.
“Because we are choosing three schools for now per each district, we are looking at the schools to determine what are the infrastructural needs, what is the attitude of the principal, what is the attitude of the teachers, so we have to match that resourcefulness with the needs,” he said.
In other updates, all schools have received instructional manuals etc. to install the Education Management Information System (EMIS). Corey Belfour, ICT Director at the ministry said some schools have begun using the platform to manage classes, teachers, school information, and automate attendance management.
Belfour said the platform is capable of leave management, producing online timetables, ID card generation, online examinations, report cards, and e-books. Guardians can also log into the platform to view their child’s information, timetable, grades and subjects.
“In 2020 we will be looking at online Freedom of Information Act requests which can be made by members of the public and processed online,” Belfour said.
Chief Education Officer Harilal Seecharan said EMIS “will fundamentally change how schools are administered and managed and therefore change how principals oversee their schools.” The system is expected to assist the ministry with faster decision making.
During the Q and A Education Minister Anthony Garcia was asked about the ministry’s position on the education of migrants. He responded: “I know the Catholic Church is very anxious to include the children of the migrants and in fact I met with the Archbishop on one occasion together with the Minister of National Security looking at ways and means how we can assist, but the bottom line is priority will be given to our citizens”.