It took a mere minute’s response to the question: “What considerations have been put for students with special needs?” during the media conference hosted by the Ministry of Education, for Dr. Nyan Gadsby Dolly, Minister of Education, to shatter all hope for true change with regards to special education in T&T.
Dr. Gadsby Dolly stated the following:
“So the special needs children, of course, they would require the use of… some of them the use of aides and so on, and that is put in place for them. There may be some classes… because you know some of our special needs students are involved in the regular population and so they will be catered to by their teachers, in the normal way and the special aides and teacher aides and so on. They are still available for assistance for our special needs students if necessary. So that division, is already primed and ready to assist our special needs students.”
It seems as though Dr. Gadsby Dolly is not aware of the serious inefficiency taking place for many years in the area of Special Education in T&T and yet she refers to the division as primed and ready to assist special needs students?
The Autism Parents Association of T&T (APATT) would like to ask/state the following:
1. Who and where are these aides “still available for special needs students”? When we met representatives of the Student Support Services last year, and we asked how many students’ aides the Ministry has, we were told they have 98 for the entire country. This figure does not include OJT personnel that acts as aides in schools without being formally qualified to do so.
Let us remind the Ministry and the public that during the JSC (Joint Select Committee) Inquiry On Special Education, the MOE took the standpoint that a candidate for the position of Special Education Teacher Aide must only have a willingness to work with a child with a disability and upon receipt of “internal training” is tasked to provide support service to the child.
The Committee had to remind the MOE of the importance of qualified staff in adherence with Article 24(2)(e) of the UNCRPD that states, “State parties shall ensure that Effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.”
2. Furthermore, we were present in a meeting where Student Support Services personnel stated that if a child has a formal diagnosis done by a professional and it is recommended that they need a student aide in order to facilitate their learning, it is ultimately the Ministry of Education’s decision whether or not the child needs a student aide regardless of said child’s formal diagnosis and recommendations. This is the definition of absurdity.
Just last year, when we went to meet SSS we were told they are over 300 students waiting for a student aide in the country and parents have to wait for years to have one (if they are lucky). In many cases, the child passed through the entire system, completely unassisted, because they were not provided with one.
- What about the hundreds of children with disabilities that don’t even know what a school is like because there are no proper schools that can cater for their needs? They have been for years, not just during this pandemic, at home looking at four walls and being denied the right of an education. The state has completely abandoned them but surely their pens were shiny and ready when they ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
The Ministry of Education is now worrying about how to teach children who CANNOT physically go to school and yet special needs children have been going through this sad reality for years? Parents of special needs children have been practically begging for their children’s right to be fulfilled by the state, which is for them to have access to proper education with qualified teachers, just like the rest of children in T&T.
Special needs children must be given the tools to develop and become productive members of society. Yet, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears no matter the government in power. Parents of neuro-typical children have been worried, concerned and very outspoken about their children being out of school for one term due to this pandemic. Perhaps now, they can understand, just a tiny bit, the raw reality of hundreds of special needs children in this country who are not going to school, because a significant investment in both resources and man power to cater for their special needs is not given serious consideration.
The 1966 Education Act of Trinidad and Tobago included a statement on provision for students with disabilities, and in 1981 the Special Education Unit was formed. Consequently, the Student Support Services Division was created in 2004. So the Ministry of Education had 54 years to make things right for the special needs children in this country. If 54 years is not enough, will 5 more years make a difference? Time will only tell.