It is estimated that close to 30 per cent of the nation’s children suffer some form of disability, said Minister of Education Dr Tim Gopeesingh.
Speaking at the Ministry’s first National Stakeholders Consultation—Special Needs, at Capital Plaza, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain yesterday, Gopeesingh said international research shows that this is a very high percentage at a national level.
“The Ministry of Education research showed close to about 28 to 30 per cent of our students do have some difficulty, whether they be emotional behavioural, psychological abnormality, visual impairment, hearing impairment, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, emotional, psychological abnormalities, Down’s syndrome, neuro muscular diseases, cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness and other areas.
“We believe the research comes to almost 30 per cent but the research project—we are doing now at the Ministry of Education with eight primary schools and eight early childhood care and education (ECCE) centres, where an international company is assessing children for disabilities, will be completed in a few months--will help us determine the true incidence and prevalence of these problems,” Gopeesingh said.
He added that this means there are thousands of people between the ages of one and 20 years old living with disabilities.
“The country’s annual birth rate is about 17,000 annually, over the past ten years, 30 per cent of that is about 5,100. On an annual basis, multiply that over a 20-year period, we have close to about 100,000 between age one to 20 at a national level with some difficulty and therefore how do we as a country manage our young ones with these difficulties?
“And so it is the responsibility of us in Government to seek your guidance and your inspiration going forward.”
Gopeesingh explained that he has been mandated together with Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Marlene Coudray and Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to develop a comprehensive national policy related to special needs children as the basis for the way forward.
“What we are doing here today is seeking the views on the way forward on the formulation of this national policy and charting the way forward for ensuring total care and management and prevention, early detection, care and management of the children.”
Gopeesingh said the education sector is beefing up student support services and now moving to have more than 700 student support services officers, including guidance officers, social workers and behavioural clinical educational psychologists.
“The interviews are being processed now and, hopefully, in the opening of the new academic year we would have a tremendous increase in these.”
He said they were now seeking to see where Government could assist the bodies responsible for persons with various disabilities.
“We want to ensure that the lives of parents and those who care for them become easier,” Gopeesingh added.
In moving forward, he said, teachers at the ECCE and primary school levels will be specially trained in order to spot some of the disabilities in children early.
He said it is hoped that the pilot project currently taking place at the eight schools located across the country, together with the information being given by stakeholders, will help in charting the way forward.