A partnership between the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training (METVT) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has sought to enhance the safety measures of special schools in Barbados.
Under the ‘Safe and Healthy Reopening of Schools for Students with Special Education Needs’ project, the Ann Hill, Irving Wilson and Erdiston Schools have been outfitted with automatic water dispensers, detachable soap dispensers and portable hand sanitiser dispensers, directional floor markers, and thermometers, thanks to PAHO. Six-seater tables with umbrellas were also installed to provide students with outdoor seating.
PAHO also donated gallons of hand sanitisers, gloves, and face masks for both adults and children, some of which have “window” panels, allowing deaf individuals to safely read the lips and facial expressions of the persons with whom they are communicating.
The donation also included educational resource materials, three smart screen televisions and six laptops.
Speaking at the official handing over ceremony at the Ann Hill School, Pine Plantation Road, St. Michael, on Wednesday, the Education Minister expressed her gratitude to PAHO, noting that it greatly aided the safe return to the classroom for special needs students, whose lessons are heavily interactive.
“These children require a special way of dealing with them and I am grateful that PAHO was prepared to not only reach out, but also to be able to identify the masks that you can see through….
“Many of these children learn as others do in a virtual way and things like screens in the classroom would also not only excite them, but it could also encourage their teachers to find different ways to connect with them also. So, while it may seem like a simple donation … for us here in Barbados and all the institutions that have benefited, we are eternally grateful to you for this generosity,” Ms. Bradshaw stated.
She further praised PAHO for its technical support and guidance throughout the pandemic, and stated that she looked forward to working with the organization on matters relating to nutrition and wellness.
Minister Bradshaw also reassured that the Ministry of Education was keen on ensuring students and teachers of special needs schools were able to operate in an environment that is not only safe, but conducive to learning.
Reiterating the objective of making sure that “no child is left behind”, Ms. Bradshaw said education authorities were mindful of the hesitancy of some parents to send their children back the school in light of the pandemic.
“We are working assiduously to try to ensure that these children do not lose any further stage in their education and that they can do so in a safe environment. For those who may not be able to return to school, whatever the reason, we’re working on being able to find ways to reach them as well. All children must have the opportunity to enjoy receiving an education, and that is our mission,” the Education Minister declared.
Family and Community Health Advisor with PAHO’s Office for Barbados and the eastern Caribbean, Dr. Darlene Omeir, said the organization was committed to assisting with the safe return of all students to the physical classroom.
She, however, noted that the needs of special education students required greater attention, given that adherence to protocols, such as social distancing, “in many instances, would not be practical or appropriate to implement”.
It was with this in mind, Dr. Omeir explained, that the collaboration between PAHO and METVT was developed to respond to these needs to ensure that “students with special education needs, their teachers and other staff can conduct educational activities in a safe and secure environment”.
The PAHO official explained that the project focused on four main areas: the establishment of water, sanitisation and hygiene stations; increasing access to personal protective equipment; maintaining physical distancing and strengthening screening, and installation of communication modalities.
Dr. Omeir stated that the donation, worth over US$90,000 would help these institutions to meet the aforementioned objectives under the project, and PAHO was “very pleased” to have partnered with the Ministry of Education.