About the Special Education Needs "Authority" Draft Bill

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Lettre ouverte to the Prime minister and to the Minister for Education concerning the Special Education Needs “Authority” (SENA) draft bill:

What’s in a name? Authority or Council?

Mauritius already suffers from authorititis (a pathological number of authorities): Authorities are at the taxpayers’ expense, a way for politicians and government to be in control, instead of encouraging open debate and free expression of needs from the population;

Nominations are an easy way to compensate political protégés by placing them on such boards and allowing them to benefit from stipends, per diem allocations and access to travelling abroad.

There would be more flexibility for discussions with a Council, while with an authority decisions would be imposed on educational institutions from above.

Stability would be ensured as when there are political nominees such authorities have been seen to remain without a head for long periods when there is a change in government.

A “council” would therefore be more appropriate.

Who?

The main objective of a neutral & democratic institution would be to defend the rights and best interests of people with special needs. All members should therefore be elected, including those who represent Ministries or governmental services. No nominations should be allowed and democratic procedures privileged so as to involve representatives of all stakeholders in a more equitable way and in order for transparency to prevail: individual persons with special needs, their parents, professionals (doctors and especially paediatricians) & therapists – (psychologists, occupational and speech therapists) - NGO’s - private schools as well as government services.

The most important persons to be represented should remain the beneficiaries themselves and their parents; parents have a primordial role in defining expectations and outlining problems as they occur. Their say must be taken into consideration.

Why?

The objectives of the body should include:

Coordination of all existing services in the best interest of students with special needs, instead of particular interests of institutions or government.

Inclusion of the welfare of all special needs students from pre-primary up to tertiary levels.

Guaranteeing precise and smooth channeling to inclusive education, namely in the transition from grade 6 to grade 7, within the new nine-year schooling system.

Setting up a non-time barred & a non-exam oriented approach more suitable for these students, since exams from Grade 4 to Grade 6 render the access to education more difficult for children with special needs.

Fostering diversity: all types of institutions (NGO’s - private - government - & confessional) should be involved in offering special education services and parents should be guided to make the most appropriate school for their child.

- Ensuring transition to a fully inclusive education model and fostering an effective conversion through relative integration to end with successful inclusion. Monitoring the transition period is important so that no child is traumatised by lack of planning or instability and therefore left behind. Although the state should fully shoulder the responsibility of offering special education services in an inclusive manner, it is essential that NGO’s survive, since great capital has been accumulated by them over the years, in tailor-made systems adapted to the Mauritian context. Co-operation between the state and other stakeholders would therefore be in the best interest of children with special needs.

Promoting regionalisation of services at first, to eventually reach all parts of Mauritius, including Rodrigues and Agalega.

Balancing diversity of types of needs (visual, auditory, physical, mental, learning disabilities, health, etc.) through a medium term plan (5 years) according to standard prevalence of each type. All educational institutions must be able to eventually cater for some type of special needs: government, private NGO, at all levels (pre-primary, primary, secondary, university as well as on-going adult training and rehabilitation of the impaired & the elderly). The body should ensure compliance with this rule, although a transition period may be necessary to empower all educational institutions to do so.

Controlling the quality and suitability of the services offered by all types of institutions, especially government institutions. Indeed, if the body is composed of civil servants will monitoring and sanctions be equitable, if the providers themselves apply them? Protecting the image of governmental services and that of their colleagues may be their priority.

Providing prompt and efficient enquiries and sanctions in cases of confirmed anomalies.

Updating and renewing knowledge on special education by encouraging local research.

Promoting advocacy and information as well as awareness of special educational needs for early screening, assessment and intervention. All members of Mauritian society should be induced to respect the most vulnerable and give them their rightful and dignified place.

How?

A respected body should be set up to ensure coordination /planning so that Mauritius may comply with its commitments in terms of conventions and international norms.

The body should be stable and there should be no gaps in its functioning because of elections or disfavour of members of the body. Freedom of opinion and liberty to function independently should be ensured at all costs in the best interests of all persons with special educational needs.

When?

Ideally when a consensus of all stakeholders has been reached after in depth consultation and debate, and the conditions to serve the best interests of children and adults with special educational needs have been spelled out precisely.

Jacqueline Forget
Special Educational Needs Society (SENS)

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