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Monday 27 May 2019
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Celebrating our special students

Photo courtesy Pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay

TTUTA

THE RECENT success of our national Special Olympics team caused celebration and fanfare throughout the country. This success was the outcome of sheer persistence, dedication and hard work on the part of those athletes and the people who worked to prepare and present them at the games in Doha, Qatar.

TTUTA joins with the rest of the national community in saluting those special athletes, congratulating them on their success and thanking them for the national pride displayed and heaped onto our country.

Many of our able-bodied citizens will do well to take a page out of the books of these special athletes and show that regardless of their circumstances, they can still excel and achieve greatness through perseverance and determination. Special credit must also go out to those teachers who tirelessly work with our special students, in less than ideal conditions, to nurture and develop their talents.

It is noteworthy that the Minister of Education has acknowledged that special education requires more resources and attention. During his tour of special education institutions he saw first-hand the appalling conditions prevailing at these institutions.

This admission will hopefully translate into action in the immediate future since the facilities at most of our special education institutions are woefully inadequate and it is a miracle that teachers persevere in such appalling conditions.

TTUTA, on numerous instances, would have lamented the deliberate indifference of the authorities in the past toward the issue of special education. Many of these institutions are still run by Good Samaritans, with the State knowingly abdicating its responsibilities to provide equal quality educational opportunities for all children, regardless of their abilities.

In many instances there are hybrid arrangements that exist between the State and non-governmental organisations which are nebulous at best and date back to the colonial era.

These arrangements facilitate the proverbial “passing of the buck” when it comes to holding people accountable for the horrendous state of affairs that often prevails at these institutions. Very often teachers get caught in the middle of these power struggles, with the union forced to intervene on their behalf to defend and safeguard their rights under the law.

Commendations must also be given to Senator Paul Richards for single-handedly championing the case of our special-needs children at the parliamentary level. These achievements, not for the first time, of these special Olympians is a testament to the labour of love rendered by special education teachers. They are indeed unsung heroes of our society and to them we owe a sincere debt of gratitude.

The selection of our current Teacher of the Year, a teacher at the School for the Hearing Impaired, has also served to draw attention to the plight of special education, reminding the national community that there are many teachers who possess a special love for children regardless of their abilities.

These are the people who see the ability in disability and are prepared to make the necessary personal sacrifices to ensure that these children are treated with the dignity and respect they so richly deserve.

The success of the Special Olympians is confirmation, if ever we needed it, that, if given the support, opportunity and encouragement, every citizen can excel and achieve their maximum human potential and in the process add value to the society in which they live; the fundamental premise of our education system.

While many of us are caught in our technologically-advanced worlds, our special education teachers are struggling to teach without basic resources and equipment. Buildings are dilapidated and overcrowded. Leaking roofs, broken doors and lack of basic furniture often characterise the status of many of our special schools.

In a country that boasts of universal quality education from kindergarten to secondary level, it is indeed shameful that our facilities for special needs children have been allowed to languish to that extent. Our thrust for inclusive education seems to have fallen by the wayside with special needs children and teachers being an afterthought.

It is hoped that the realisation by the minister, albeit late, will translate into concrete steps being taken with haste to regularise the status of all our special needs schools as an integral part of the functioning of the Ministry of Education with the requisite facilities being taken up to internationally acceptable standards.

As a society we must collectively show a deeper level of appreciation for those among us with special needs, for our maturity is judged, among other things, by the extent to which we care for the weak and vulnerable.

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