Education Minister Rodolphe Samuel during Wednesday’s press briefing.
PHILIPSBURG--All children are given an opportunity to start their schooling in mainstream education at a regular school at the age of four, when compulsory education takes effect, and if the child is identified as having special need(s), they are assessed for referral into the special needs education school – Prins Willem Alexander School for Special Education (PWAS).
The explanation was provided by Education Minister Rodolphe Samuel who was asked about the issue during the live Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday. The Daily Herald asked the minister about the lack of provisions for children with special needs who reach the age of four, but are not yet accepted into the Prins Willem Alexander School for Special Education.
“That is correct,” the minister said, adding, “but there is a, but … we try to leave all children start regular school, you know – to see if they are late developers and that is why you might see that students are given the opportunity to start in regular schools at the age of four; and when it is noticed that the child has special needs, depending on the type of special needs, then that child will be assessed and when I say assessed, we need to do the necessary assessment of the situation and then a decision will be made if the child goes into special education school – so no, they are not dropping through the cracks,” Samuel explained.
The practice of having children who are identified as having challenges or special needs in mainstream education brings a mountain of challenges for teachers, worry and concern for parents and frustration for the pupils, many of whom, as a result of not getting the attention they require, are left lagging behind.
When asked about the challenges encountered by, in particular, public school educators, who are confronted and in many cases overwhelmed with multiple children with special needs in their classrooms, but lack a permanent daily teacher’s assistant to help with the challenges that these children bring, Samuel alluded to the special needs policy that is in the pipeline that he said will address these matters.
“We at the ministry, because we care about the situation regarding special needs, have started the development of a policy and I have mentioned this before that the policy development is on its way. In order to complete the policy, one of the things that we did was a situational analysis of St. Maarten,” stated Samuel.
He explained that the analysis will assess, for instance, how many and what types of special needs exist in the country at the various types of schools – public, subsidised and in private settings.
“That policy document, the research, the assessment document is now completed and together with the situational analysis, we are going to complete the policy for special needs education. The policy for special needs education will indicate, indeed, things like how many special needs students are in a classroom, how many teachers, what type of teachers, what type of assistance [is needed for – Ed.] the teachers, the whole setting in regard to special needs will be laid down for the first time complete in a policy,” he indicated.
“One of the things that I have done since becoming Minister of Education is to put in every school a remedial teacher,” he said, indicating that he is referring to public schools. “Now previously, and I am talking about public schools, so when I came there were one or two remedial teachers for [all] the schools, and now there is one remedial teacher per school, and I am talking about primary schools,” he said.
He explained that if there is need for additional classroom teachers, the analysis will specify this. “And if there are need for classroom teachers the situation[al analysis] will also indicate this and we can hire in more persons in order to assist with these situations. So yes, this has my attention. Yes, we are busy with it and we do hope to be able to contribute to this special group of persons in the community,” he said.
The minister was asked what educators can do if faced with a situation where they cannot cope with the number of students in their class who require special attention due to their needs, in addition to students with no special needs, and as such need a more permanent assistant in the classroom.
“Classroom teachers who feel the need of having a classroom assistant, the first thing that they should do is go via the management. If you go via the management and the management will go towards the school board from which that teacher is working and the determination of whether or not a classroom assistant is needed will then be handled. So, make the request via the management, via the school board and then that will happen.”
The Daily Herald understands that public schools have taken this route in the past and are simply told that there are no funds available to hire more assistants and the schools and their burdened educators are left to handle the mushrooming situation with the already limited, strained resources at their disposal.
Samuel explained that the special needs education policy will be finalised soon. “I usually don’t give dates, because if something comes up, then I will be told, ‘And you see, you gave a date and it did not happen,’ so I will inform you that it will be done shortly, because I have seen communication in that direction.”