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The Inconvenient Child

Posted on: February 10, 2014

My open letter to the Hon. Minister of Education, Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro…

I’m saddened and distressed by the state of affairs with regards to special education in this country.

We hear “It’s a priority” so often and still nothing gets done so I’ve now become numb to the promises made. I guess one thing can be said – There’s been some consistency where this issue is concerned and that is, nothing gets done. How tragic.

This year I made a special effort to listen to the Hon. Minister of Education, Jacqui Quinn-Lenadro’s speech regarding the recent budget. At one point, the Minister expressed how painful it was for her to see an unfinished structure at the Antigua State College campus for such an extended period. Painful! It pains her to see an unfinished building – that I may add – she’s right, it should be finished – BUT – perhaps I missed this, but I’ve never heard the Minister sounding this pained when she talks about special need children and how they continue to be shortchanged by the education system. Children! Not blocks! People! Or is it just the parents who should feel this pain? Newsflash! We’re feeling it! Newsflash! We can’t take it anymore!

So, since we’re on the subject of pain. Here’s what pains me…

The way the authorities run to their back-up responses of arts and crafts, vocational when the subject of special education comes up. Arts and crafts/vocational, though good is not the be-all and end-all of our children. Are we as parents to assume that that’s what it means to you – And – that is the breadth of the experience they will have in the system?

I am saddened that you and too many others continue to apologize and make excuses for the lack of any real, and thoughtful plans to address the needs of these students – actions that continue to be disastrous for so many. Quit holding out the “Coming Soon” carrot stick! We’re not rabbits! After all, at what point should we get fed-up of hearing “We’re working on something” or “We’re looking at it”. So you’re looking at it, we’re looking for it and our children get absolutely nothing from it. Just great! Words don’t help our children. Good programs/policies that are enforced do.

Here is your record…

You started out by saying the Ministry of Education will be making special education a priority. Every time I think of this I remember a quote from Mahatma Gandhi which says; “Actions expresses priorities”. My interpretation of this is that people take action on the things they deem important. I guess in a sense the Ministry’s inaction has pushed me to keep fighting for my child’s (and others like him) educational rights. So I’m going to keep demanding, over and over and over again for better more meaningful change. “We don’t have enough money” is no longer acceptable or defensible for bad education policies and programs.

You then said that you will be setting up a diagnostic center: We’re still waiting for this to even start. By the way, should we be concerned by the track record of the new public library? In a Daily Observer article on November 19th, 2011 the Minister stated: “Our fine team at the Board of Education has just completed an estimate of the cost of converting the building (referring to a building on Nugent Ave.) into a functional child-friendly centre, and we have included this expenditure into the 2012 budget,” – What happened Minister? Ok… You missed the ball in 2012 and again in 2013 – But… Believe me folks it will happen in 2014! Give me a minute please because I’m gagging on this giant-sized pill I’m being fed now. I’ve said this before – But – year after year we hear of an education budget but it’s difficult to say whether there is any correlation between the amount spent on the education system and its ability to be effective in responding to diversity. So you don’t have enough? Let us see what you’re doing with what you have. It’s your responsibility to tell us.

A Special Education Council was put in place… Good move: An advisory council could potentially assist the Ministry with drafting policies/programs/plans/reviewing budgets and giving guidance (relating to special education) on how to put those plans into action. Where I think you went wrong: Instead of looking as far as the eye can see with regards to assembling a diverse group to sit on this council – You, looked outside your office door. That‘s the only conclusion I could arrive at to explain why you would elect a senior executive within the Ministry as the Chair of this council – Added to that the other members (with the exception of one) are all Ministry execs.

By all means, this is not an attack on the competencies of the individuals who sit on the council but they are Ministry staffers and are conflicted, therefore, in providing independent advice to you. The council is unlikely to recommend actions deemed unfavorable by you or criticize any decisions that have been made by the Ministry. Therefore you and your team cannot receive the objective advice needed in order to make intelligent decisions. This clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the processes of thoughtful planning which the provision of special education services require.

More teachers have been trained in Special Education: This is absolutely great! But Minister, please explain why this benefit hasn’t trickled down to the point of making more of a difference for our children who are in the classrooms now. How do these new specialist teachers entering the system fit into the overall plan? What is the big picture? Is there a big picture?

The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: The new political ping-pong – Politicians climbing over each other to see who can be the most politically correct and use the most buzz-words. To that I say; “How convenient.” We don’t address it for years then all of a sudden it shows up in a budget speech. Did we just find the conscience we lost? When Antigua signed on to this convention in 2007, put in place by the United Nations, were we doing it for the betterment of our citizens or was it just for show?

The Ministry has managed to do very little because many parents/advocates either can’t, won’t or don’t know how to challenge them. I have to be honest though, sometimes I feel like I’m being ignored to the point of exhaustion (didn’t know this was possible) within a system that is so inherently flawed that the authorities think nothing about being satisfied with the status quo. It’s embarrassing, the awful reputation our public schools have when it comes to special education. How can we change that?

These children may have a disability and they may need accommodations to access the educational curriculum but they are worthy of the same high expectations that is placed on our typical children. So hopefully you agree that we must have high expectations of education authorities. After all it’s the high expectations that we have today which will prepare them for a life of independence in the future. I refuse to raise a child for a life of dependence on social programs and dollars! Or worse! I very much doubt you, or any other Member of Parliament, would be happy with that situation for your own children, yet so many in government are complicit by their silence on the issue. I’m not wishing for any MP to have to raise a child with special needs but perhaps you would all feel somewhat differently about the matter if you had to.

Here we are, celebrating Education Week under the theme “Every Learner Achieves: A Call for Greater Commitment” but from where I sit it does not appear as if we truly believe in that theme. That every learner can achieve – And when the authorities call for greater commitment. Who is this call going out to? Commitment is not a one-way street. Education officials are always quick to tout the importance of the involvement of parents as stakeholders in the education of their child but when parents do get involved it appears as if your involvement is only wanted on their terms. So we’re “good” once we’re singing from the same hymn-sheet but once I challenge you… Now, I know there are some who have no tolerance for this sort of emotional honesty in communication – But I refuse to give unthinking respect to anyone/group/thing. It’s not happening!

So, no more phony consultations to provide window-dressing for progress. We don’t want that! We want real dialogue that asks all partners to help define the barriers and consider how they can contribute to solving them. I’m ready to do whatever it takes. What about you?

4 Responses to "The Inconvenient Child"

I can’t quite remember who this quote is attributed to but it goes something like this and I think it sums up (for me anyway) the current landscape with regards to special education: “Don’t tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.”

Quite frankly, the MoE and all the technicians within do nothing but window dressing. Even educating our children has become a political issue and while the MP’s seek to gain mileage, our differently abled children are being left behind.

I am tired of the talk shops and the ‘plans’. I am tired of being tired of waiting on them to act. The region is making strides in developing programmes for the differently abled while we in Antigua and Barbuda are merely marking time. Makes me wonder …

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