When will education really be for all children?

 Every child deserves access to an education. - Courtesy Sataish Rampersad
Every child deserves access to an education. - Courtesy Sataish Rampersad


“I am so tired of begging for my child to be accepted into a school! I have been turned down by four schools. Out of desperation I enrolled her in a private school but the principal and teachers are saying that they cannot teach her because she is too difficult.

"I have spoken to a social worker, I have called the education district office many times and never got through, I have left messages for the officer but no call back.

"I have reached out to my MP, to anyone who I think could help me, but nothing. I am tired and frustrated.

"I stopped working so I can stay home with her but she is a bright child and she just needs to be in a school where she can learn more than I can teach her, where she will get to interact with other children, even if it’s online for now.

"I just don’t know what to do any more. When will education really be available to every child in this country?”

Nicole, the parent speaking above, is just one of the many parents who have been reaching out to Support Autism T&T and other NGOs desperately seeking guidance and help to get their children enrolled in a school. From May we have been bombarded with calls from parents whose children were turned down by public schools and were therefore unable to enrol their children in schools.

In most cases principals said they did not have special needs teachers and the resources needed to teach children on the autism spectrum.

One parent said, “I applied to four schools, all located in and around where we live. I applied in time, I provided my son’s diagnosis letter and all other documentation. None of the schools accepted him.

"I went in to see the principals in two different schools and they were sympathetic but said they just could not handle a child with special needs – their teachers were not trained. The other two schools said they did not have space.”

The other calls are from parents with older children. In Nicole’s case, her daughter is 12 years old and has not been in a school for four years. At the last school she attended, she was bullied by students and the teacher said she could not handle her. Nicole was asked to “take her for therapy and when her behaviour improves, then bring her back.”

Education is supposed to help children develop their skills and talents. - courtesy Sataish Rampersad

Nicole’s daughter attended therapy for a year, but when she tried to get her back into school, the principal said they could not take her unless she had an aide.

Nicole has been waiting for the past three years for an aide to be assigned to her daughter. In the meantime, the child has been home.

Education is supposed to empower children. It is supposed to be a basic right of a child, not only for the privileged and certainly not something parents should have to beg for.

The Inclusive Education Policy stays, “The Ministry of Education of TT is committed to a seamless education system of which inclusive education is a major component. It shall provide support and services to all learners by taking appropriate steps to make education available, accessible acceptable and adaptable.”

Yet many special needs children cannot get into a public school; many have been waiting for years for aides; and teachers graduating with degrees in special education have been waiting for years to be interviewed and placed in schools.

As a nation which has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, one would think that TT would be more proactive in creating equal access to education for persons with special educational needs/disabilities.

Yet this continues to be one of the biggest failures of the Ministry of Education. It is also one that is not being addressed.

In the meantime, NGOs are limited in the help they can give to special-needs parents and many parents are frustrated and stressed because they cannot get their children into schools. Also,

Families face financial difficulties because one parent has to stay at home to care for the child or because they pay huge fees for private schools or tutors to work with their children.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” How then are we supposed to change TT when there is educational inequality in our country?

Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T


"When will education really be for all children?"

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