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Saturday, August 26, 2017

I noted with some dismay, the well-intentioned, but ill-advised plan of the Education Minister, in whom I am generally well-pleased, to have all students under 13 years of age, who scored below 30 per cent in the SEA, repeat that examination. I also read of concerns expressed by the Archbishop, psychologists and other learned citizens, about the trauma students suffer as a result of having to sit that examination.

Admittedly, there are students who improve dramatically during the year when they repeat the examination, but in some cases, this does not happen. As a former Common Entrance teacher, I can attest to the fact that there are some students, who, no matter how many chances they are given, will not perform any better in a subsequent examination, unless they receive expert intervention, outside the realm of the ordinary teacher.

For others, attending a mainstream secondary school is not in God’s plan for them. Forcing them into a mould into which they cannot fit, creates frustration and frequently leads to their misbehaving or their dropping out from school to join the criminal sub-culture to achieve their new perception of success.

I suggest the Ministry have the teachers or guidance counsellors, who dealt with those 30 percenters (who do not have the options of the children of the one per cent), identify those who would benefit from an extra year of tuition and those with special needs. The latter group should then be screened, assessed by properly qualified professionals to determine the exact nature of their learning disability or psychological disorder and be given assistance.

Teachers are not taught the skills at teachers’ colleges to diagnose, let alone, effectively assist students with problems which impede educational achievement. We know when something seems not right, but the ability to identify and address the problem, frequently eludes the ordinary teacher.

I will never forget a strange encounter in my first class after leaving Mausica Teachers’ College. In my Standard Three class sat a student who steadfastly refused to interact with anyone in the class, including me, her class teacher. The other students eagerly told me: “Miss, you know, we never even hear her voice.”

A senior teacher and the principal confirmed the child’s history. I visited the child’s home to meet with her parents. I saw the child busily doing school work at home and acting like a normal child. Her parents could shed no light on her unusual behaviour at school. The next day, the child and I began, what I in my ignorance, perceived as a battle of wills. I had no tools, save love and determination. Overwhelmed by my persistence, she began to respond, smile, speak and work in class. She made me famous in the village as “the teacher who made AA talk.”

Several years later, I was appointed to the National Commission on Special Education, set up by then Bahamian Prime Minister, Perry Christie, who, understandably, as parent of a special child, has a keen interest in special education. I was ably assisted in my work on the legislative sub-committee by students of the College of the Bahamas.

From their painstaking research, I learnt that children had more disabilities than, (with apologies to Shakespeare), I could ever have “dreamt of in (my) philosophy”, and that my former student, who was later to succeed at Common Entrance, had been suffering from selective mutism.

So, Minister Garcia, I urge you to arrange for screening and assessment of those students who present special challenges. Provide for the required intervention and initiate programmes to suit their particular needs, God-given talents and abilities. Having special needs students re-sit the SEA examination should not be an automatic option or a matter of parental choice.

Child rights advocate


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