The Ministry of Education was on the receiving end of some heavy criticism from Independent Senator Paul Richards on Wednesday, after its representatives at a Joint Select Committee on Social Service and Public Administration, failed to provide sufficient data on special needs staff at Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Centres.
Senator Richards, who is the Chairman of the Committee, went hard on the ministry representatives after they were unable to provide figures on how many special needs certified teachers were employed by the ministry to assist these 124 students.
The ministry’s Manager of the Student Support Services Division, Ayinka Nurse-Carrington, confirmed that there are 31 ECCE students diagnosed with special needs, while there are 93 students not diagnosed, but suspected of having special needs.
However, on the question of how many special needs certified teachers were employed, Nurse-Carrington said she would have to send the committee a written response since she did not have the exact number on hand.
Richards responded, “I find it difficult to accept that the ministry has come before the JSC to answer questions on Early Childhood Centres, when one of the main issues is students with disabilities, with special needs, without information. That’s astounding to me, quite frankly, that it needs to be provided in writing.”
“It is frustrating because part of the remit of the committee is to find out what’s working, what’s not working and provide recommendations for solutions. While policy documents and procedural documents are fine, without data we can’t make an assessment as to what’s working. Part of the reason for the JSC also is to provide the public with a live overview of accountability and transparency as to what’s working in their interest,” Richards said.
Richards recalled that during site visits to several ECCEs, they found several centres neglected by the ministry and lacking resources for their special needs children.
“We visited eight Childhood Care Centres, two government, and six either private or government-assisted private, and most of them have not been visited by ministry officials for years. In some instances, over ten years. If that’s a small sample of what’s happening out there, the concern is how are you going to know what’s happening with those unregistered private centres that may be in areas that may not have come to your attention.
“Even those that we visited were all registered and had not been visited by ministry officials to check compliance, health and safety, adherence to curriculum, teacher training, et cetera,” he said.