All early childhood teachers need to be special-needs trained, says former ECC chair

All early childhood teachers need to be special-needs trained, says former ECC chair

BY ANTHONY LEWIS
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

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ROSE HALL, St James — Professor of child health, child development and behaviour in the department of obstetrics at the University of the West Indies, Maureen Samms-Vaughan, is convinced that early childhood educators across the sector ought to be equipped to deal with students with disabilities in order to broaden access to the oft-maligned group.

“One of the things we have to do is to ensure that our teachers are better equipped to work with children with disabilities, to understand their needs better and therefore be able to provide for them,” Samms-Vaughan argued.

Professor Samms-Vaughan said according to research, one in every seven or eight children has a disability, noting that approximately 34,000 children are born in Jamaica each year. “That means that we have about 4,000 children every year born with a disability [in Jamaica]. That disability could range from attention deficit disorder, to not being able to walk and having to be in a wheelchair, and having severe vision problems,” she explained.

She was addressing day two of the three-day Professional Development Institute on the topic ‘The Concept of Child-Friendly Schools — Fostering Inclusivity in the Early Childhood Classroom’ at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in Rose Hall, St James last Wednesday.

The subject was in tandem with ‘Encourage, Enable, Include Me’ — the theme for Child Month, which is observed annually in May.

Chairman of the National Child Month Committee Dr Pauline Mullings said while this year’s theme is applicable to all children, emphasis during the month of activities will be placed on children with special needs.

On Wednesday, Samms-Vaughan, a former chairman of the ECC who has worked with children with disabilities for many years, described what in her professional opinion was a ‘child-friendly school’ for students with disabilities.

“The child-friendly school for the child with disability means that every child regardless of their disability can enter, feel very welcome in that school, and be provided with all the resources and support that they need. So, the child with a disability is gonna be the one that cannot see over the fence if you give them what you give everybody else,” argued Samms-Vaughan.

“But if you have a programme that is welcoming, that is warm, that is flexible — the flexible is important — then, it means that you will do what is on the other side of the slide — You will provide for each child what they need. And the child with a disability is going to require more than the other children in order for them to have the same opportunity.”

Professor Samms-Vaughan argued that over the years she has seen two types of schools.

“I see schools that are very warm and very welcoming and try to engage and do the best that they can. And many schools don’t have all the resources [but] the important thing is that they do the best they can for that child. But then I see the other schools that say, ‘You have to find another place for your child. We can’t look after your child here. You need to get another school’,” she said.

“That’s not equity; that’s not a child-friendly school. That’s not a school that’s going to advance all our children. It is going to advance some of our children. It is going to advance the children who already have opportunity, and it is going to leave the most vulnerable of our children behind.”

Professor Samms-Vaughan suggested that the lack of confidence on the part of some teachers in dealing with children, is one of the reasons for the problem.

“One of the reasons why we have this problem is because some of our teachers do not feel competent enough that they can work with [disabled] children. They are unsure what to do, and when you are unsure what to do, we get a little nervous, and we decide that we can’t manage at all,” she reasoned.

The Professional Development Institute is an initiative of the ECC and is expected to become an annual event.

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