Early detection and intervention are key to capitalising on the benefits of the education system

The population of special needs students in Jamaica is larger than normal. The approximately 4000 students who participated in the Alternative Secondary Education Transition Programme to remediate literacy and numeracy skill deficit is a testament and indicator of the magnitude of the growing problem. A great number of these students could have avoided the learning challenges experienced in the education system if they had received intervention earlier. In a recent presentation, Mrs. Joan Ernandez, lecturer in Language and Literacy at the University of the West Indies (U.W.I.), Mona, noted that only 66% of students pass the Grade Four Literacy Test and 74% per annum enter secondary schools without the pre-requisite skills reading and mathematics. When we learn of students who were not able to pass the litmus test for literacy at the Grade Four level, they have already had at least four years of schooling, and more often than not, 6 years because of likely graduation from an early childhood institution. 

Where did we go wrong? There are a myriad of factors that coalesce to create this great problem and unless we understand and attack each factor, we cannot expect change on a large scale.  These factors can be traced to the home and education system. It is a known fact that not all homes are equal in terms of the stimulation children receive in the critical early years. Studies have found a noticeable gap in the vocabulary of students from lower socioeconomic background and their wealthier counterpart, and the continued widening of that gap as they develop. Despite this, McKinsey and Company’s review of the best education systems reveal that differences in the home environment can be overcome by quality education system. The report notes that high performing education systems “construct effective interventions at the level of the school”, however, “the very best systems intervene at the level of the individual student, developing processes and structures within schools that are able to identify when a student is starting to fall behind, and then intervening to improve that child’s performance” (McKinsey & Company, 2007, p. 49).

Many education stakeholders are already doing their part.  I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting with principals of early childhood institutions and the School of Education at the U.W.I., Mona campus earlier this year where the School of Education Assessment and Treatment of Exceptionalities (SOCATE) Project was introduced. SOCATE joins the well-known and overburdened MICO College Child Assessment and Research in Education, Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities, the recently launched Shelly Ann Fraser Assessment Centre for Children, and other providers that cater to the special needs school population in Jamaica.

SOCATE Project

SOCATE presents a wonderful opportunity to ensure that we get it right early. The project will address capacity issues as well as advance the development of a blue print for catering to special needs students at the early childhood level and mitigating the associated risks.