Can children with learning disabilities be taught in the mainstream public school system?
The short answer to that question is no.
With regard to the public school system in Trinidad and, more provisions need to be put in place to ensure children with learning disabilities are not only taught but acquire the skills that will enable them to pursue whatever career path they so desire, said Kitts Cadette, principal of Eshe’s Learning Centre.
The school is located in Woodbrook and is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Today and tomorrow there will be a two-day conference, titled “Hidden Disabilities: A Look Through the Microscope; Prevalence and Intervention”, on the school’s compound.
Key speakers at the conference include: Sucheta Kamath and Allen Broyles. Kamath is an executive function specialist from India. She specialises in retraining those with brains that are sufficiently equipped with a keen intellectual ability but have a diagnosed or an unidentified executive dysfunction which causes internal disorganisation of thoughts, ideas and implementation. Broyles is the Assistant Head of School and middle school principal of Howard School, Atlanta, Georgia, a K-12 school for students with language-based learning differences.
With 24 years’ experience in independent school education, Broyles serves on the national board of directors of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, and has presented and consulted on brain research, mathematics and differentiation at regional conferences and schools.
The starting time today is 8.30 a.m. tomorrow at 8 a.m.
Aimed at sensitising the public to the prevalence of hidden disabilities in the classroom, the conference will touch on various topics that include: the many faces of learning disabilities; “My child needs help” - Parents Speak Out”; medical hidden disabilities; strategies for working with at-risk boys in the classroom; access to intervention; the classroom of the 21st century and designing and facilitating differentiated instruction.
“Learning disability covers a broad umbrella and includes conditions such as dysgraphia, a problem with writing; dyslexia, a problem with reading. We have executive function disorder, which is the inability to organise one’s thoughts and one’s world which is crucial to be successful in school. We have students with auditory problems and other hidden disabilities,” Cadette said.
Focusing on sensitisation, advocacy and informing the public of the options available to them, Cadette strongly believes more can be done to have the inclusion of children with various learning disabilities within the public school system successfully. However, she noted inclusion without human and physical resources is destined to fail.
She said, “We are looking now specifically at mainstream classrooms where we have so many children that fall through the cracks because they remain undiagnosed.”
“In the past, Eshe’s has worked with students with learning challenges at different levels. We have developed a curriculum which affords students of different abilities to maximise their potential. So we have children who write the SEA exam because they have that capacity and we have children who write school leaving because they are unable to write SEA. We also have students who engage in a life skills programme because that is the level in which they are at,” she said.
“On staff we have fabric designers, letter craft persons; people that do woodwork, cake icing and confectionery; leather craft, jewelry craft and home management. We have several students that go to a barber in St James twice a week to do barbering,” she added.
“For the seminar we will have a group of parents with children with learning disabilities; and we will also have a panel of adults with learning disabilities talking about their experiences,” she said.
“At the end of this seminar, we hope teachers would leave energised and they would become a little more aware of the kinds of problems some children face with learning,” she said.
Cadette noted that, while some teachers can see when a child is struggling in class, she hopes where they might have moved on to another topic they would pause and spend a moment to think that that child’s struggle may not be self-imposed.
She said, “The child is not lazy, dumb and does not want to learn; rather the child may have some kind of problem which is undiagnosed.”
“Many teachers in the mainstream school system struggle to give the kind of unique attention a child deserves. It’s not because teachers do not care or that they do not want to help; their hands are tied sometimes by the sheer volume of work and the number of children they have to interact with on a daily basis. About 90 per cent of our school population came from the mainstream school system. At Eshe’s in our younger classes we have only 14 students per class with one teacher and one teacher’s assistant,” she said.
“We have had children from Eshe’s gone on to do tertiary education; open their own business and work within the government service. We have had students that have found success and are making a contribution in all areas of society and that is because they got the necessary support that they needed,” she said.
While some people may feel children with these various learning disabilities may be better off in a special school, they can also fit in just fine in a regular school, Cadette said.
Cadette went on further to clarify that inclusion can only be successful if those with various learning disabilities are given a fair chance to learn like their peers.
“They can only fit in if certain resources are put in place at schools to meet their specific needs. What I mean by resources... there must be a smaller class size where teachers can have smaller group interaction; where instructions can be more individualised and differentiated. The teachers must have a certain level of training in working with children with special educational needs and this training should be ongoing. Research is always coming up with new findings so it is important to keep abreast of the latest techniques,” she said.
“Technology has proved to be a very meaningful conduit of information to children. Their brains are hard-wired for technology but we have to use it in a meaningful way,” she added.
The conference, “Hidden Disabilities: A Look Through the Microscope; Prevalence and Intervention” will be open to the public and ends at 3.15 pm each day.
For registration, call 622-7206.