THE Ministry of Education will soon start testing an online tool to test pupils for depression arising from the past year of online school classes, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat told the Senate on Tuesday in reply to a listed question by Opposition Senator Wade Mark.
Mark had asked if the ministry would try to identify depressed pupils by introducing onto its online platform some depression scale ratings (of a user's well-being such as mood and insomnia).
Rambharat replied, "The Ministry of Education is in the process of developing an online screening tool to facilitate the early identification of children at risk rather than utilise depression rating scales. This screening tool is an adaptation of three commonly-used rating tools: the mental health inventory, paediatric symptom checklist and diagnostic and statistical measure of mental health.
"The Development, Assessment and Intervention Unit of the Ministry of Education is currently undertaking research to determine the effectiveness and cultural applicability of this tool for students of Trinidad and Tobago before it is considered part of the suite of offerings provided by the Student Support Services Division of the ministry."
He said the tool can give a quick snapshot of a user's mental heath to help determine if he or she is experiencing symptoms linked to depression. Pilot testing will begin in school term three, he said.
Mark, in a supplemental question, suggested the ministry had taken long to consider introducing this tool to detect depression, after a year of pupils doing online classes.
Rambharat replied,"The identification of barriers to learning of children, adults, people in the learning environment, is not new."
He said the ministry has had its two above-mentioned units for a long time.
"It is the purpose of these units to provide the sort of assessment and identification of issues which serve as barriers to educating our children."
He said pupil monitoring was not new.
"This is a tool that is being developed given the switch to education in an online environment."
He said the tool will look at issues which have become more prominent in the covid19 period which the ministry believes are likely to affect some students in the learning environment.
"So it is not new. There's been no delay. As the issues have arisen and as the ministry confronts new challenges and new barriers to learning, particularly in the online environment, it has taken the steps to develop the tool, have it tested and determine its applicability across the board in the learning environment."
Mark said, "Can the minister indicate whether he can share with the Senate how many children have been identified by the ministry as suffering with depression as a result of these online classes?"
Rambharat replied that he was not in a position to not give that information, but gave an undertaking to provide it within a week.