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Special Needs Education Funding Requires ‘Big Money Wine’, says Jas Walkin

Borrowing a line from the Collin Lucas soca classic ‘Dollar Wine’, Special Needs Education Officer, Jas Walkin has pointed out in no uncertain terms that the cost to get special needs education into the 21st century requires ‘big money wine’.

Special Needs Education Officer, Jas Walkin

Speaking to Sabrina Green on her FLOW in the Morning ‘Human Rights in a time of Crisis’ show, Walkin, who himself is a special needs individual, living with Cerebral Palsy, stated that up to this point, not much attention was being paid to special needs, although the Washington Misick Administration has pledged to change that.

“We have to, as a country, not just government, make a commitment to recognizing the costing of certain programmes and priority areas…programmes aren’t cheap. If we want to do serious social engineering and improvements, we have got to spend the money,” he suggested.

Walkin does not think some stakeholders involved with special needs really understand the importance of access to education for all.

“…Because there is a struggle within what we call the general education classroom, that’s children with no special needs diagnosis. So, if it is difficult to get all those children in the classroom, imagine the fight for my students who have the diagnosis.

“What separates special education from general education in terms of access to the classroom is that when the government and the ministry can plan for general education, which is the teachers, furniture and students, special education requires much more than that.

“You need a classroom, you need a special education teacher, you need specialized furniture, but what you also need is that you have to provide the support services to support the full social development of that child, and here’s why, where a child with no diagnosis is told you have a brain, you have understanding, go learn your lesson, you have no excuse, you can’t give that to a child with learning impairment or those with disability.”

He said the special needs programme needs a special education teacher, classroom and equipment, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, noting that depending on where one is on the education spectrum, behavioural support would also be needed.

“Not all of those support services are currently available consistently in the TCI. So, when it comes to the placement of students with special needs the challenge isn’t just finding room, and the policy does support inclusive education.

“Inclusive education is designed to work when neither education of the special needs child or the general education child is being impeded based on the contacts. But the support services are not here in the TCI, and my office has communicated a lot of the plans and initiatives that will get those support services here,” Walkin pointed out.

“How do we get the support services here? We have to spend some money. You have to pay for service. As I told them at the news conference on (last) Monday, this is big money wine,” he noted.

Walkin said his primary objective is to spearhead the TCI Education Policy of 2016, which includes giving technical advice to government on the programmes that can be developed out of that policy and to supervise the implementation of those systems.

The special needs education officer, who told the show that he returned to the post two months ago, declared that he had walked away from it, after feeling he had hit a brick wall in his pursuit to modernize the department.

Now, Walkin said he has become more energized to take on the task again based on the promises and efforts exhibited by the current administration.

“That alone was enough for me to get fired up again for that programme. The other good news is that government has boasted several times of the strong financial position that we are in. So, I am very hopeful that the innuendos and the promises and the pledges of funding, as well as the projects that are already on the table will come to fruition,” he stated.

He added: “I believe that if you want to get support for anything you are doing, you need partners, collaboration. Now, I couldn’t get this opportunity if I did not launch a PR campaign.

“PR and public awareness is effective because they not just sensitize the country for the cause for which you are representing, but I love to energize people and rally up the troops, to get behind an important cause.

“So, this month – November – has been declared Special Needs Education Awareness Month, to galvanize the country’s support and also to educate as to why we have a specific community of people we are here to represent.

“A lot of people who are in politics, they look for constituency to run in, but in this situation, I have found a constituency to represent already.”

Walkin agreed with Green, who is the Director for the TCI Human Rights Commission that special needs is among the demographic with the smallest voice in the country, and that there need to be people who stand up and speak up on their behalf.

Public service delivery is important, and for special needs people, we have got to find a better way to deliver the services, revealing that the government has already identified a spot to construct the special needs facility.

“The progressive news is that we have identified a facility. We are in the planning stage of designing that facility that would be fit for purpose, not just for a school but for a service centre for the entire Turks and Caicos Islands. The vision for us is to be able to staff that centre with the professionals…speech and language therapists, behavioural therapists, occupational therapists, school psychologists, where, after the assessment and diagnosis is done, it is not a death sentence,” Walkin said.

He said a registration drive for special needs children is now underway in order to get proper data, so as to determine what numbers they are working with, and what level of diagnosis would be needed.

“We are going to have a special needs education register. The reason this register is important is that it won’t only have the names and diagnosis of the child, it would have the report attached as well as the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

“It is the hope that that registry will able to monitor and track every single diagnosis of special needs child in this country progressed…from the time they were diagnosed up to when they would have matriculated to the working environment,” he said.

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