Thursday, July 13, 2023 — More assistance is coming for students of the OECS with special education needs. On June 29th, 2023, the OECS Commission hosted a graduation ceremony for some 50 educators from seven member territories who completed training in identifying and utilising low-cost and low-tech devices to support the learning of students with special needs. The training was provided through the OECS PEARL (OECS Programme for Educational Advancement and Relevant Learning) with funding and in partnership with the Commonwealth of Learning.
Assistive Technology (AT) refers to devices or equipment which help to improve the functional capacity of people with disabilities. When utilised in teaching and learning, AT enables students to participate more fully in the classroom and helps them access their right to education within a less restrictive, and more inclusive environment. The OECS PEARL is committed to the advancement of early childhood education and special education needs (SEN) through the implementation of the OECS Education Sector Strategy (OESS). Through the OECS-COL Assistive Technologies for Students with Special Education Needs Course, the PEARL was able to fulfill one of the key goals of the OESS, which is to develop and provide professional training to teachers and practitioners who interact with children with special education needs (SEN).
Delivering congratulatory remarks, Dr Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS emphasized that:
In all civilisations, education is invariably seen as a core responsibility of the State, regardless of its ideological, political or organisational construction. One way in which we can assess how committed a society or civilisation is, in leaving no one behind, is the extent to which special education is taken seriously…….The OECS Programme for Education Advancement and Relevant Learning, its attention to special education needs is a direct response to the advocacy from OECS Ministries of Education to provide training and resources to better serve the underserved in our region. The PEARL will provide job-embedded Continuous Professional Development to support both mainstream and special education teachers in meeting the education needs of students…..The emphasis on both mainstream and special education is deliberate because even teachers dealing with mainstream students can benefit from the methodology, the pedagogy and the sensitivity of special education pedagogy.
Offering congratulatory remarks on behalf of the Commonwealth of Learning, Dr Mairette Newman, Education Specialist, noted:
It’s a real pleasure to be part of this hybrid graduation which marks a very important milestone in the COL-OECS shared effort to build a more inclusive world, and in particular I would like to recognise and congratulate these special education teachers and the educators with us today. Firstly for stepping up and choosing to engage in professional learning during what is a notoriously busy term in the school year, and secondly, for not just completing the training, but actually excelling all of them.
The virtual graduation ceremony featured a student panel discussion on special education needs and Assistive Technologies. The panelists, Dr Josephine Claxton-Richardson and Ronique Thaxter, offered their perspectives on special education needs and enhancing learning in the classroom. Additionally, Dr Christy Costello- Almeida from Autism Belize delivered the Guest Speaker Presentation.
Dr Almeida commended graduands on choosing to work in SEN and encouraged them to remember that on hard days this is their purpose. She stated:
Not just anyone can work with persons with disabilities; it is not just about knowledge, training and equipment. It also takes heart and compassion, it takes a special type of person. The fact that you have chosen to do this, to fulfill your reason for being, your purpose in history is not something that anyone watching should take lightly.
Speaking on behalf of her fellow graduands, Jessica Jacobie, a vision education support teacher and disability rights advocate reflected:
My experience of the course was very rewarding. I got to dig a little deeper into some of what I already knew but there is a lot more that I did not know and I was able to share with other persons. As long as we take what we learned and put it into practice, it will be very valuable for us who have pursued the course because we will be able to impact the lives of our students, even to the point that some of them will become less dependent.
The OECS-COL Introduction to Assistive Technologies for Special Education Needs Course follows the successful completion of the OECS Special Education Needs Survey and is one of a series of ongoing activities and initiatives being implemented by the OECS PEARL, funded by the Global Partnership for Education, to support enhancements to the education of students with special education needs and disabilities across the OECS so that “Every Learner Succeeds”.