MEMORANDUM TO THE HOUSE COMMISION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
SUBJECT: IMPROVEMENT IN THE EDUCATION PROVIDED TO STUDENTS WHO FALL UNDER SPECIAL EDUCATION/SECONDARY EDUCATION
FROM: PANCYPRIAN RARE GENETIC DISEASES ASSOCIATION – UNIQUE SMILES
As Unique Smiles we have an obligation to attempt to safeguard the human rights of all people but especially children with special needs. Our educational system with its stiff structures, places heavy weights and barriers to students with special, unique needs. It does not meet substantially the satisfaction of their needs nor the assurance that every child has the right to learn, in a supportive environment that ensures that they will have the same opportunities to all.
As part of the dialogue that has begun in the Commission on Human Rights of the Cypriot Parliament about the improvement of the conditions of special education in secondary education, we would like to submit our own views.
The starting point of our thinking is that we have to change substantially specific aspects of the educational system in order to guarantee the rights of ALL students and not just some of them. Specifically, we suggest the following:
1. The assurance of a smooth transition from primary to secondary education.
It is an absolute necessity for an effective coordination between the elementary school and the junior high school to exist at least six months before the attendance of the students in the new school. There should be established at least three meetings of the special teachers and speech therapists or other specialists of both schools in order to have a clear picture until the attendance in the new school. The last meeting should also attend the principals of both schools as the main education providing facilitators and the parents of the students. During this meeting the framework of the welcoming of the students, who will receive special education depending on their needs, should be prepared. The file with all the reviews and a portfolio of the student’s achievements should be transferred to the new school in time, at least two months before the end of the school year preceding the attendance of the students in junior high school. Parents should have the right to see the file in the presence of the principal whenever they want to without having to apply or pay a fee in accordance to the current practices.
2. Action plan for every student
The action plan should include specific aspects (goals) of how the students should be welcomed, taught, how they should socialize and participate in their new schools. Then aim is for every student to experience a deeper meaning and feeling, that his presence is important to the school, that they’re happy and participate equally to everyone and that they can truly make it. This will only be ensured by chances to succeed that they should and are also entitled to have. The action plan should be evaluated and monitored during the whole school year under the responsibility of the principal and it should be modified when necessary.
3. The creation of positions of consultants from the district special education committees
The role of the consultants will be crucial and decisive in the implementation of the action plans by every school. They will provide advice, review the progress of the children and support the schools and their efforts. Furthermore, the role of the consultants will be determinant in case the folder with the student evaluations is not received by the new school and is forgotten in the elementary school, resulting in the new school not having at its disposal all the necessary information about the students it’s welcoming.
4. The assurance of the presence of qualified staff. The permanence of the staff.
In the schools that the students who already receive special education, will attend, should be ensured that there are special teachers since as mentioned during the previous session, 10% of the teachers have this specialization. Therefore, there should be coordination between the district committee and the educational service committee to ensure this matter. Also, if a teacher is provably satisfying the needs of the students, they should be able to stay in this school without being transferred, until the graduation of these children.
5. Reduced number of students per class
In cases where there are students with unique needs in a class, it makes sense that the total number should be greatly reduced. This will have a dual purpose. On the one hand, it will guarantee better conditions of teaching and on the other hand, it will motivate the teachers to care and take very seriously the instruction in these classes.
6. Assistance with the tasks that the students undertake
There should be provided essential assistance to the students in relation to the tasks they undertake whether that’s exams or assignments. By assistance, we mean the the prolongation of the deadline and the alternative forms and methods that can be used. For example, the use of a touchscreen instead of a booklet.
7. The needs and interests of the students to be finally taken seriously. Creation of a material bank.
Through specific evaluations and interviews with the students themselves and their environment, information that are regarding their needs, their interests and the way they can learn (learning style) and earn as much as possible should come up. This information should be translated into actions through specific practices and learning material. Specifically, if some children can learn better in a visual or auditory way, that should be the way they are taught. Within the framework, if not of all subjects, of the individual or group support they receive, there should be a material bank that corresponds to the material taught and is represented in various ways. So, the teacher, taking into account the needs, specificities, interests and the experiences of their students should be able to choose and modify the material that would be best suited to them.
8. The establishment of multidisciplinary sessions per quarter
There should be established multidisciplinary sessions with all those involved in the learning process of the special education students. These meetings should be able to attend individuals or other healers if there are students that receive private treatment in their afternoons. The aim is for an efficient cooperation of all the efforts involved to exist so that there is feedback and a common target at the needs of the students.
9. Final evaluation at the end of the school year
By the end of the school year there should be an evaluation according to the objectives set in the action plan, demonstrating the degree of their implementation and deciding the action plan for the next school year.
We hope that this time the discussion will lead to substantial changes and results solely in terms of the interest and safeguarding the human rights of all students and especially the ones with unique needs.