ONE of the most critical decisions a parent will ever make on behalf of their children is charting their educational course. Add the issue of having a child with a developmental challenge and the process becomes even harder. Issues surrounding the educational systems are often a topic of discussion and rightly so, but rarely does the discussion evolve to include special education. I am making the effort to elevate this discussion as there are solutions to be found to some critical issues.
My son's journey through the system is now becoming challenging. We sent Amari to pre-school at age two in hopes that it would help with his development. It did to an extent, but now at age four, delays are still evident.
For kindergarten, which he just started, a decision had to be made as to where to send him. It was a difficult and confusing process, to say the least. I thought that the right school and programme would have been obvious when we started to explore, but it wasn't. The experts, who all mean well and have offered tremendous support, all had a different opinion as to where he should go. What made it even more difficult is that he isn't special needs enough to fit into some programmes, but still not ready to fit into a regular classroom.
Coincidentally, I have two good friends who face a similar situation and are equally confused about where to send their children to school. One of them has been going through this journey for a longer time and the feedback from her is that what we are experiencing is typical.
More schools are trying to add a special needs department. Most of them, however, are prep schools, so how many others can afford same? I read recently that 50 special education teachers will be deployed into primary schools this September. This is a move in the right direction, but can it really dent the need? Then there are very few privately run schools that cater specifically to children with special needs. Some are doing excellent work and making tremendous strides, whilst others, despite their efforts, are not meeting the needs of the children enrolled as some of the teachers employed are not trained in special education. Are these privately run schools being monitored?
Then there is the decision to utilise programmes outside of school and/or to have a personal teaching assistant (shadow) for your child and the ensuing cost, but these will be discussed in later articles.
Moving forward, we decided to keep Amari at his current school in the enrichment centre where an Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be used with integration in kindergarten for specific times in the day. We are not 100 per cent sure this was the right decision, but we are trying it to see what benefits can be gained. If it doesn't work then we will try something else; I will let you know how it goes.
What I want to point out today is that there is an absence of structure and commonality for prescribed solutions in this field. There is also an absence of enough programmes in the schools, which results in children not accessing same.
I can't wait another generation for this to be remedied as my child is in the school system now. The Ministry of Education says "every child can learn, every child must learn". Does the ministry actively pursue this vision or is it just something nice to say?
Even though resources are not enough, special education should at least form part of the greater discussion, thereby positioning this segment to receive funding if it does become available. If it is not included in the discussion how will it attract needed assistance?
There are so many facets to this discussion that we will have to have it many times. For now, I want us to ponder the following: how many children are being marginalised, lost in the system, unable to achieve their full potential and what are we doing about it?
Sara, mom to four year old Amari, is an advocate for children with developmental delays. Amari was born three months early at one pound, and was hospitalised for three and a half months after birth. Check this space every couple weeks as Sara tackles the issue of children with special needs. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org