ExxonMobil has begun investing funds in the Diamond Special Needs School to improve its infrastructure and enhance the capacity of its teachers in relation to special needs education.
The goal, according to Exxon’s Director of Government Affairs Carlton James, is to make the Diamond Special Needs School a model school for special education. “ExxonMobil will, for the foreseeable future, continue to work with the Diamond Special Needs School. We believe there are all sorts of possibilities here—it is easy to get to, the environment is correct, almost for it to be a crucible of learning,” James stated on Friday at a Social Enhancement Seminar held at the school.
The seminar was attended by Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnaraine who emphasised a need for an investment in special needs education. He stated that he will do everything in his capacity and within the resources of the ministry to ensure that children with special needs receive the support they need from the government of Guyana.
“If we can succeed with children with special education needs, we can succeed throughout the education system,” the minister said.
Wendy Grimmond, the school’s Head Teacher, related that ExxonMobil had been approached for donations by the United Women for Special Children’s group on the school’s behalf. She explained that the group is a long-time supporter of the school.
It, therefore, happened that when James visited last year, he requested that the school provide a wish list. From that list, ExxonMobil identified the two areas it would fund—infrastructure and training.
The results, so far, are a disability-friendly washroom space, a new pantry, and an ongoing three-month accredited special needs course attended by the school’s teachers.
The 60-hour course, the outline for which was designed by Joseph Wangija, was approved by the University of Guyana and is being run through the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE). It has five modules and focuses on three key areas: teacher education, infrastructure and liaison with communities.
“It is designed to address Guyana’s ever increasing special education needs. The truth is that in Guyana they have higher rates of special education needs than they would sometimes want to admit,” Wangija, who was previously employed at the Ministry of Education, stated on Friday.
“The course basically equips teachers with skills to identify disabilities. In my presentation, I emphasised that one of the best ways that Guyana can address special education needs is by identifying the disabilities in children at a tender age so that they start working on these disabilities before they grow, because if they grow and they begin, they try, they will fail, they would have already been bent.
“It also equips teachers with advocacy skills to help advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. You always find that children with disabilities, they are more vulnerable to things like abuse because they cannot report, they cannot fight off the offenders. It also creates a synergy between special education needs and development. If you look in Guyana, studies are showing that seven out of ten prisoners for example, they are youth, and it is related to special education needs,” he added.
Wangija stated that while they have begun working with parents and teachers and infrastructural upgrades have already occurred, they are yet to take their work out into the communities.
As it relates to infrastructure, Grimmond shared that there are hopes to also upgrade the male washroom and have rails installed in both lavatories, install rails in the walkways of the school, and build a storeroom among other major plans to bring the school to an internationally-recognised standard for the efficient and effective delivery of special education.
She also revealed that the Ministry of Education has pledged $4.5 million to the extension of the therapy room, which they promised to have completed before this year’s end.