Statement
6 March 2016 - 8:15am

MESSAGE FOR THE OPENING OF THE
2016 EDUCATION WEEK CELEBRATION
BY THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION AND CULTURE
HONOURABLE MYRON V. WALWYN
Sunday, 6th March, 2016
“Inclusion is a right, not a privilege for a select few”

I am Myron V. Walwyn, Minister for Education and Culture and it is with pleasure that I take this opportunity to bring you brief remarks to open this year’s Education Week activities as we celebrate the opportunities in education with the theme, “Instructing Every Child through Inclusive Education”.  This year we have also included a subtheme, which reminds us - “Education Includes Me.”

Reflection

In my 2012 Education Week message, I noted that, as a Ministry, we would have been looking specifically at how we can ensure that our education system is doing its best to reach all students; simply put, establishing an education system of inclusion.

In my 2013 message, I mentioned that we can no longer leave our children in the shadows and bound them to a life of inequality and social repression; we can no longer ignore the needs of our children but must cater to the needs of all children; this is inclusive education.

In my 2014 message, I stated that the vision for education in the Virgin Islands is to ensure that all citizens at every stage of their learning journey, from early years to adulthood, are able to reach their full potential and be successful in life.  This is inclusive education.

In my 2015 message, I stressed that we have invested in our educators, the physical structures of our schools, the development of programmes to truly serve the varying needs and learning styles of our students; this is inclusive education.

We are now in 2016 and even though the theme is worded differently, the message remains the same.  Our aim is to ensure that all students receive an education which meets their needs and is offered in the least restrictive environment.

Recently at the High Level UNESCO conference on “Achieving the 2030 Education Agenda with Quality Educators” which I attended in Israel, I came across the following statement which states; “The failure to adequately educate students can be seen as a violation of the right to education as it limits economic development and lock countries into cycles of low growth rates, limited employment opportunities and weak social cohesion.”

It therefore behooves us to ensure that every child receives a quality education. All children and young people have the right to education and we must meet this obligation by providing a quality education, with quality educators to ensure that all of our children are prepared to become productive and independent citizens.

I am of the firm belief that ‘Inclusion is a right, not a privilege for a select few’.  That is why in 2013, at The Elmore Stoutt High School we developed the Student Support Services Remedial Programme. A programme that provided necessary academic and social support to students with various learning needs, rather than placing students in a separate school and learning environment.

We have learned that the programme greatly assisted students by helping them develop studying and learning skills that built their confidence so that they can move on with a new and positive outlook towards their educational goals. Such support is what we must strive to have for all of our students as it has proved that inclusion works.

Inclusive Education

The theme for Education Week; “Instructing Every Child through Inclusive Education” should be our mantra going forward.  I believe that the initiatives which we have put in place to strengthen teaching and learning, as well as educational leadership will go a long way in helping to develop a learning environment that respects the learning capacity of all students and meet students where there are in order to guide them to greater academic achievements.

We must work to ensure that all our schools can easily cater to the identities, languages, abilities, and talents of our students. We must recognise and affirm an inclusive environment where the learning needs of students are addressed. As the stewards of our educational system, we must ensure that we provide an opportunity for all of our students to gain an education that will serve them in their overall development.

I am well aware that the process of inclusive education is only as good as the values and beliefs of the people who put it into action. This is why today I call on the teaching fraternity, families and our community to support the efforts of the Ministry of Education to ensure that no child is left out of the academic process, simply because of his or her personal challenges.

Inclusion may be best looked at as a process in which students and staff are valued equally. But it does not mean they are all treated as the same. There can be ‘no one size fits all’ in education. For some students, our traditional education model simply does not meet their needs. Some have different needs; some have learning difficulties, and some face social and personal challenges that affect their performance in school. In the past, many people believed that these students simply had to change to fit into the system.  Today, that kind of thinking must be challenged.

If the attitudes, structures and processes of the system are failing our young people, then it is not the young people who should change – it is the system itself which must change. This is the definition of inclusion and this is what we must strive to achieve.

The cultures, policies and practices in schools must adapt and respond to the diversity of students. We must create opportunities, customise education to the learner and we must invest in our human resource. Most importantly, we must be willing ourselves to learn.

The first lesson we must learn is that students with differences must not simply be looked at as having problems to overcome. All students have potential, and their diversity must be celebrated and embraced. This demands a shift in attitude that some will find uncomfortable. And it requires the determination to change.

You are aware by now, that my Ministry has already made strides to ensure that inclusion is not simply a theoretical ideal for us, but rather, a near reality. Considering the success of the Student Support Services Remedial Programme within the Elmore Stoutt High School, we have appointed a new Education Officer with responsibility for Special Education, who has been given the general mandate to oversee the delivery of special education and support services in all schools in the Territory of the Virgin Islands.

There is no better time than now - for our schools, our teachers and our community to realise that the differences in our children are fundamental to who they are as learners.  There is also no better time for our education system, our schools, our teachers and our community to conclude that all our children have immense potential for academic success. This is why there is urgency for us to develop an education system that is culturally responsive to the diversity of our children.

Let us focus on the potential of every child. To do this, we must ensure that we have effective and responsive leaders and teachers. These are the kinds of leaders and teachers who are committed and confident in developing productive partnerships with students, parents and the Virgin Islands community.

Making education work for all requires the concerted efforts of all.  My commitment to inclusion is personal, and this is why I will do whatever I can to make sure we establish an education system that serves all our children, to help them to realise their full potential.

I know there is a lot of work to be done, but I am committed to the process, as I wish never to see any child with special needs isolated and tucked away from the community.  But there’s much more to be done. That’s why our Government is currently reviewing how special education operates in the Virgin Islands.

As we think about the future, let us think about how we can work together to produce an inclusive education system which unleashes success for differently abled students and indeed success for all.  Giving every child a sense of belonging, value and worth enhances their overall quality of life.  Therefore, we are moving in the direction of including students with moderate to severe disabilities in the mainstream school community.

In the not-to-distant future, we will work to establish a special class in one Primary School and one Secondary School to allow for the inclusion of students presently attending the Eslyn Henley Richiez School for all or part of the school day.

This school year, the Ministry has implemented a formal process for referrals, intervention and the development of Individualised Education Plans (IEPs) for students who require them. This means that if a student is considered to be at risk for academic failure due to behavioral, social, emotional or academic issues, they will be referred to the school’s Intervention Team and assistance will be provided to that student.

Education Week Activities

As we begin this year’s activities, on Monday, 7th March, the schools’ mass choir will be performing at the Road Town Methodist Church as part of the H. Lavity Stoutt Day Celebrations at 8:00 a.m. I invite all to come out and be a part of the celebration.

On Tuesday, 8th March, each school will be hosting an Open Day and Project Display and on Wednesday, 9th March, we will be having a Teacher Exchange across the Territory.  Teachers will be volunteering to work at different schools for one day.  In addition, a few students will be allowed to shadow senior Public Officers for the day.

On Thursday, 10th and Friday, 11th March, we will be hosting the annual Inter-Primary School Sports Competition.  I urge you to come out to show your support at all activities.  In addition, the Ministry will be publishing an Education Week booklet, which will highlight the 2016 celebratory activities.  This publication will be available by the end of April.

I would like to congratulate the staff of the Ministry and the faculties and staff of our schools on the extremely valuable work you do in supporting students within our schools, for promoting inclusive education, and making education a priority for all students.  The values and beliefs around inclusion must become actions. Each child in the Virgin Islands has a right to access an equitable education and I look forward to our continued work in service to our Territory’s students.

Thank you for listening and Let us all make it a personal creed: “Inclusion begins with me.” Happy Education week 2016!

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