Morris: Liberalise education system for students with special needs

Observer staff reporter

Friday, May 03, 2019

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OPPOSITION Senator Floyd Morris has called for the education system to be more accessible to students with disabilities.

Speaking recently at the launch of Dr Charmaine Gooden Monteith's book, Inclusion of students with special needs in the regular classroom, at the Jamaica Teachers' Association's offices on Church Street in Kingston, recently, Morris said he believes that the education system is closed to persons with incapacities.

In the book, Gooden Monteith highlighted the challenges, opportunities, and issues in several countries where the implementation of inclusive policies take place.

“Over the years, the education system has been closed to persons with disabilities. We have seen a shift, in probably the last 30 years, to make the education system more accessible to persons with disabilities but we need to accelerate that pace to ensure that members of this vulnerable community, which based on Statistical Institute of Jamaica's (STATIN's) last census in 2011, is approximately 580,000 individuals in our country,” the senator said.

According to Morris, the Child Find programme, which is a legal requirement that schools find all children who have disabilities, and who may be entitled to special education services, has pointed to just over 4,000 children with disabilities that are in the education system in Jamaica.

“I analysed some data I received in Parliament, in response to questions I had raised in 2017 concerning the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), and how many persons with disabilities are a part of the programme.

“Of the 21,000 students on the programme, 14,000 are children with disabilities. Now, if the Child Find programme's findings leads to just over 4,000 children with disabilities in the education system, and PATH is pointing to 14,000 it would mean that we are not accounting for 10,000 students, and so there is need for an urgent assessment to find out how many children with disabilities are in the education system,” Morris said.

“We cannot formulate public policy on the basis of mere speculation. Public policy is a modern construct and must be data driven in order to ensure the policies are being formulated for persons with disabilities, and is anchored and grounded in research. We at the University of the West Indies' (UWI) Centre of Disabilities Studies are prepared to assist in that regard,” he said.

He added: “The ministry's mantra says that every child can learn, and every child must learn. At The UWI's Centre of Disabilities, we firmly identify with that mantra, but we don't want it to be a mantra confined to just the able-bodied but for all children in the society, including those with disabilities.”

“I am prepared to do whatever I can to ensure that more students with disabilities get opportunities,” he said.

“[Nelson] Mandela says that the best way to empower the most vulnerable in your society is through education and I am a living testimony to that,” he continued.

“And I am also able to speak to the different challenges because I was not born blind. It was while I was attending St Mary High School that I developed glaucoma in 1983 and at that time the teachers in the education system had not a clue or understanding as to how to treat such a situation. I was performing very well up until the ninth grade. I began failing subjects left, right and centre, and I went through the school system without any form of assistance and graduated in 1986 without a single academic subject,” Morris said.

Morris said although he was discouraged at times, he had a passion for education and knew his disability would not impede his progress.

“One day I was listening to the radio and that sweet and wonderful voice of Dorraine Samuels, who we laid to rest recently, spoke about the Jamaica Society for the Blind and gave me insight as to how I could pick up the pieces and restart my education. That led me to return to Kingston in 1981. I got rehabilitated at the Society for the Blind, went to evening school at MICO did my 'A' and 'O' level subjects, and completed seven of them within two years,” he said.

“I am going to be relentless in my pursuit over the next 10 years to ensure that the education system is fully freed up so that wherever there is a child with a disability, they can function and go to school right there in their communities,” he said.

“Every child can learn and every child must learn, but we need to create the environment to allow these individuals to learn,” Morris said.

During the launch, Gooden Monteith shared that her passion for special needs peaked because she had close friends, relatives and others whose experiences in the regular classroom awakened her consciousness.

She is the author of two other books and is a member of Florida's Writers' Group.

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