Partnerships Needed For Special Education Services – Rev. Thwaites

Minister of Education, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, says the Ministry will be seeking to encourage partnerships with its stakeholders towards the provision of special education services.

“A thrust of the Ministry has to be to encourage a partnership towards special education, and to put it in centre-stage rather than along the periphery,” the Minister said.

He was addressing the groundbreaking ceremony for a new building for the School for Therapy, Education and Parenting of Children with Multiple Disabilities (STEP) Centre, at 4 Tremaine Road, in Kingston, Tuesday March 27.

Rev. Thwaites emphasised that greater focus needs to be placed on students with special needs, citing recent surveys  which reveal that 28 per cent of the student body are somewhere on the spectrum between mild and severe disabilities.

“That’s very high; it’s higher than world averages and it therefore places upon us a tremendous responsibility to respond,” he said.

The Minister thanked the Digicel Foundation for its generosity in funding the construction of the new building at a cost of $28 million.

He said the work of the Foundation and its stakeholders in the area of special needs, establishing resource centres, and in various other areas of assistance, “should be a lesson for all. We hope it will be infectious to many other companies, and to many other persons with resources.”

Executive Director, Digicel Foundation, Samatha Chantrelle, said the area of special needs is very important for the Digicel Foundation, and that the entity is happy to be able to assist with the construction of the new building that will include a specially designed playground, sensory garden and sensory room.

“It takes a special heart and a special soul to be able to take care of children with special needs – always giving and sometimes not getting back- and this time we (the Foundation) are able to give back,” she said.

Chairperson, STEP, Peta-Rose Hall, who revealed that she has a child who graduated from the centre, pointed out that STEP was more than a school.  “It was more like a family,” she said, with skill sets to be found nowhere else in Jamaica.

She informed that STEP, a fully registered independent school catering to children with complex learning and developmental challenges, including cerebral palsy, is the only facility in Jamaica that offers physical, occupational, art, speech and language therapy for severely disabled children as part of its daily curriculum.

STEP, which currently caters to 22 special needs children daily, has been operating out of the St. Margaret’s Church Hall in Liguanea since its inception in 1994. STEP co-ordinates an active outreach programme that provides training for care staff, parents and associated professionals as well as direct intervention. It also serves as a training resource for practicum students from local universities.