Factors influencing underachievement in this island’s primary schools, as well those impacting the teaching and learning environment of children with disabilities, will come under the microscope over the next few months. That is when Government, through technical support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), undertakes two research projects.

This was disclosed today at a press conference which detailed the objectives of the projects that will examine "Learning Disabilities in Primary Schools in Barbados" and the "Quality of the Learning Environment and Teaching Methodologies at Schools Providing Special Education".

Psychologist, Beverly Drakes, who is undertaking the first study, has described it as timely, while contending that the region should look at research within its own context. She said: "We are using instruments that are not standardised on our populations… We are bringing statistics that are not relevant to our population, so, I think it is only right that we start to gather that kind of data."

Some 420 students, drawn from 20 primary schools, are expected to be surveyed, and the study will address the learning disabilities affecting students at all levels of these schools and what is inhibiting their progress.?? "Basically, we are going to look and see why some children are underachieving," said Ms. Drakes.

Pointing out that there were implications to underachievement, Ms. Drakes explained: "It isn’t just within the classroom; as we know from within the wider society, if we have children who are failing in school there is going to be a knock-on effect in crime; a rise in mental health… all kinds of issues… so this is a really important piece of research that we need a lot of engagement and participation in."

She further stressed: "We want to know what are the factors causing the under- achievement; what are the links between teaching and learning in the classroom; so, we are not just looking at the students to say they are underachieving because there is something wrong with them. We are looking to say what is the context provided as well; so, it is a sort of a more holistic approach, and there is some kind of support link to this; it is not just an exercise in collecting data…"

With respect to the second project, Principal Investigator and Lecturer in Special Education at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Stacy Blackman, noted that it would assess, among other things, quality assurance issues of how policies, programmes, settings and services for students with special needs affect their development. And, she stressed that particular areas of interest for the UWI included the teaching and learning environment and the pupil perspective.

She said: "We are also looking at investigating the stakeholders’ perspectives. We are particularly interested in the perspectives of students themselves with special needs…We understand that the pupil’s perspective is the missing link within the educational setting; the methodology that we are employing in the study is multifaceted; so, we are going to be looking at quantitative and qualitative approaches to collecting data."

The project will look at the four main institutions in Barbados that address special needs, as part of a case study research and its long term outcome will be to provide quality educational opportunities for such students. It will also see the production of a two-year implementation plan which will help chart a path for the development of special education needs here.??

The Principal Investigator revealed that they were also hoping "to convene a symposium in the area of special education, where we could share with teachers, parents and practitioners, in the field, the findings of the research and begin to engage in dialogue…on meeting the needs of students in special education in Barbados."

Meanwhile, UNICEF’s Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Tom Olsen, in urging parental support of the projects, said:?? "Any child should have opportunities to develop to his/her fullest potential and that can only be done through both formal and informal education. Having surveys like these are going to help us to reach out to each and every child."

He noted that the information would help UNICEF to assess need; determine where to put resources; ascertain how to reach out to the children from an equity point of view; and identify challenges both here and throughout the Caribbean.?? He said: "We are not only looking at education, from a pure academic point of view, but also from a health point of view…

If you know you have a problem, you need to find a solution to deal with it. It will help the country and the region to meet the millennium development goals and to achieve universal primary/secondary education for all."


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