Starting today, the Ministry of Education (MoE) will host three focus consultations on inclusive education.
This was announced by Prof Dennis Conrad, manager of the Students SupportsServices Division (SSSD), at the ministry yesterday.
He said: “We are focusing on the stakeholders who are committed to providing their children with an inclusive education. We want to engage and work with them, to come up with a plan as to how we are going to make this work. Let us, the stakeholders, work towards providing an equitable education to all.”
Mary Bastien, project leader for the focus consultations and co-ordination of guidance and counselling at the ministry,explained how it will engage with the three sets of stakeholders.
She said today it will target people and agencies who advocate on behalf of children and people with disabilities, as well as non-governmental organisations.
On Monday the focus will be on stakeholders within the ministry, since their internal departments offer different kinds of services throughout the education system. On Wednesday, other ministries and state agencies that also work with children will be targeted.
Bastien said: “We recognise that for inclusion to work, MoE alone, not being the only stakeholder ensuring that the needs of children are met, we must engage with other agencies, organisations and ministries who support children: ministries like Social Development and Family Services, the OPM’s department of gender and child development, as well as the Children’s Authority and the Ministry of Health.”
Conrad spoke of the UNESCO Salamanca Statement and Framework, which TT signed 25 years ago.
In 1994, governments and international organisations met in Salamanca, Spain, to further the objective of education for all by considering the policy shifts required to promote inclusive education, namely enabling schools to serve all children, particularly those with special educational needs.
Conrad said since the project was taken to Cabinet in 2009 there had been lamentations about lack of resources.
“So the model we are using is one of: 'We can’t afford to wait. We have to start now.'
"We have reached a level of consciousness and a level of buy-in, as well as the need for it.”
Bastien chimed in: “It’s many things coming together. SSS have been growing over the years, we’ve also been growing capacity internally, and we feel like we are at a point where our professionals are at a space now where they can provide the kind of intervention that we are looking for, for a more diverse population. Also, we’ve heard the voices of the advocacy groups.”
Conrad added: “This is the time. There is no perfect occasion. Let’s take the risks.”
He said the minsitry was working on two levels.
“We have students who are already in the normal regular schools but they are not benefiting from the services. because we’re still caught between education as academic achievement and where we looking for scholarships, and then we have the social justice model.
"We are among those who believe in this model. Education is about how we evolve as persons, how we maintain our democracy, how we respect other, how we care for other people.
"We believe that pushing the social justice agenda and linking it to rights, the system will step up.”
Bastien said the ultimate goal of the project will be to ensure that all students of all abilities can achieve their fullest potential.
Conrad, admitting it was a big task, said, “Equitable education for all is a right and we cannot wait for any perfect time. We have to start now, and this is what is driving us.”