JIS: Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, says the Government remains resolute in facilitating an inclusive education system that caters to the needs of all children, particularly those with special needs.
“The Government is very sensitive towards special needs education and towards providing the service. We acknowledge that we are not at the service level that we should be, but we are going to be increasing our budget. Indeed, this year we have increased the budget significantly for special needs education,” he said.
The Prime Minister was speaking during a visit to the Special Needs Department at Liberty Academy at the Priory in St. Andrew, on July 16.
Mr. Holness said the establishment of diagnostic and care centres to cater to students with special education needs is paramount, as these will assist in the delivery of special education programmes and services.
“The challenge that we have is that we don’t have centres like these spread right across the island in a geographically equitable way where the population can access. We are building one now at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) in Portland that will serve that end of the island, where there is a total underprovision of services,” he informed.
The Prime Minister reminded parents that the Ministry of Education has an obligation to provide an education to every single child, and encouraged them to make contact directly with the Ministry.
“In the old days, people would dismiss the child as being slow, and essentially consign them to a very dark future. Today, that is not the case and it shouldn’t be the case. Every child, regardless of their needs, can have an opportunity to fulfil themselves, and what we will be doing in facilities like these is to provide them with the means to be able to fulfil themselves and articulate in society,” he said.
He informed that in 2010, the Ministry of Education conducted an assessment to identify students with special needs.
“That assessment showed that 28 per cent of the population would have some form of special learning need ranging from very mild to severe, and based on that Child Find, we were able to place most of the students in facilities… and we have been very active in providing grants,” he said.
For her part, Special Needs Coordinator, Liberty Academy, Toni-Ann Millen, said the students and staff members were happy for the visit from the Prime Minister.
“This side of our programme deals with children with more moderate needs. We work on things besides academics, such as their self-help skills, their independence, their communication skills and their motor skills, to allow them to have a more meaningful use of life in terms of what they do,” she said.
The department caters to students who are autistic, suffer from Down’s syndrome, dyslexia, cerebral palsy and hearing impairment.
During his visit, Mr. Holness interacted with students and observed the delivery of instructions.
The institution offers an inclusive programme of education, catering to students between three and 18 years of age. The school operates kindergarten, junior, high school, and exceptional needs departments.
A church-affiliated institution, Liberty Academy at the Priory commenced operations in 1994. It functions as an outreach ministry of the Swallowfield Chapel.
Accredited by the Ministry of Education in 2001, the institution is also a registered non-profit organisation that operates under the guidelines of the Jamaica Independent Schools’ Association.
CAPTION: Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness (centre), observes as teachers from the Special Needs Department at Liberty Academy at the Priory, in St. Andrew, Jami-Ann Genius (left) and Tamalee Hamilton (right), interact with students during a visit to the institution on July 16. To the Prime Minister’s left is Special Needs Coordinator, Liberty Academy at the Priory, Toni-Ann Millen.