DR RADICA MAHASE
THE Ministry of Education (MOE) recently advertised the position of "Special Education Teacher Aide." This advertisement was met with mixed reactions by parents and caregivers of special needs children. One parent noted, “Once again, I was reminded that the MOE doesn’t care about my child. I mean, you want to hire someone with three O'level passes to work with a special needs child? And on top of that you really think that someone with that level of qualifications will have classroom management skills? Obviously the MOE rush to put out an ad and make it look like they’re doing something.” Another parent noted, “I have been waiting four years for my child to get a teacher’s aide so when I saw the ad, I was happy. I felt like finally something was being done.”
The move on the part of the MOE to advertise for the position of teacher’s aide is a positive one which shows that the MOE is taking a step forward. It brings hope to parents/caregivers who have been waiting for years for a teacher’s aide for their child. However, the idea of the teacher’s aide needs to be properly conceptualised. Judging from the ad, there is a big discrepancy between qualifications and the role of the teacher’s aide. The MOE advertised for an individual with a minimum of three O'Levels passes but the duties/ responsibilities, skills/competence and qualifications/experience are reflective of someone with a degree in special needs education.
Requirements such as knowledge of all areas of special educational needs; proper classroom management skills; the ability to maintain good discipline among a group of students; the ability to establish and maintain harmonious relationships with students and colleagues; the ability to safely operate the equipment that may be required for use with students with special educational needs, amongst others are reflective of someone with a special education degree not someone with three O'levels passes. The ad also states that the candidate should have certification in caring for children, from a recognised institution.
It is very difficult for a teacher in primary/ secondary schools to pay special attention to a student with special needs in a full class. That is why the teacher’s aide is so important. According to the Ministry of Education, Government of New Zealand, a teacher’s aide will carry out learning activities with the child; help the child’s teacher by using strategies to manage the child’s behaviour; if the child has special health or physical needs, a teacher’s aide can help with medicines, feeding, toileting, moving about the school and using specialised equipment. While there are no specific requirements for this position individuals must have training in child care, nursing, teaching and working with persons who have a disability.
In some parts of Canada, individuals must possess a special education teachers assistant diploma, first aid certificate, CPR/HCP (health care provider) certificate and they work alongside a teacher who specialises in special needs education. In other parts a person may need a certificate in support work in schools or a certificate in supporting teaching and learning in schools. In some states in the US, an associate degree and training in CPR and first aid is needed. In these countries they need to have a police certificate of good character.
While the MOE is taking a step forward here in TT to hire teacher’s aides, it needs to standardise the requirements. The MOE can liaise with institutions such as COSTAATT and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) to offer a structured certificate in special needs teacher’s aide which will include courses in first aid/CPR, sign language, etc. A person who is hired as a teacher’s aide should be properly trained to deal with students with special needs and this training should continue as long as they are employed as a teacher’s aide. Also, every individual who is hired for this position should have a police certificate of good character.
This ad that was put out by the MOE made many parents hopeful, especially those who have been waiting for years for their child to be allocated an aide. Parents need that hope but they also need to know that their child will have an aide who is properly trained, adequately qualified and fairly compensated (so that they will want to stay and do the job). The only way to make this a reality is to raise the standards of teacher’s aide – by standardising qualification and training from reputable institutions. Otherwise special needs children will continue to be at a disadvantage and parents will continue to be disillusioned.
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T