As a new school year approaches with plans to offer online-only classes for now, government is finalising efforts to increase offerings for students with special needs and to ensure greater collaboration with the public on educational matters, Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said in a Facebook broadcast Tuesday night.
“The Covid-19 period has made it even more glaring that there are groups of people within our educational system who are not being able to access the information and the education as much as everyone else,” said Dr. Wheatley, who is also the minister of education, culture, youth affairs, fisheries and agriculture.
“We want to make sure our education system caters to all.”
To bridge the gap, Dr. Wheatley said, he is spearheading the formation of a special education council that will include parents, principals, teachers and others.
By gathering such a broad cross-section of perspectives, the council will help steer officials into making the best decisions for students with special education needs, he explained.
An integral representative on this council would be a dedicated special education officer, whose sole duty would be to advocate for and work with special-needs students and their parents, the minister said.
He is also looking to create a council that would advise him on more general matters, he said, adding that he hopes it will include representatives from the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, the University of the West Indies Open Campus, and the teachers union, among others. The goal would be to establish a “strategic method of being able to make decisions” by listening to feedback from “various sectors,” Dr. Wheatley said.
Additionally, the minister has met with a cohort of “veteran educators” that he hopes will form an educational support group to provide extra help in a variety of ways to anyone involved in the Virgin Islands school system.
As examples of the support this group might offer, Dr. Wheatley envisioned one of the members mentoring a struggling or overwhelmed teacher, or stepping in to give additional instruction at schools that need it, he said.
Addressing the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Wheatley said that the school system will proceed with online learning for the foreseeable future, though his ministry intends to provide ongoing training in educational technologies throughout the pandemic, he said.
Teachers are currently undergoing a week of “professional development” that largely involves becoming acquainted with the various platforms they will use with their students, and parents will be the next group invited to participate in these lessons, Dr. Wheatley said.
Though a shipment of 500 laptops has been delayed due to soaring global demand, the minister said that students are well placed to engage in online learning, and he predicted that technology will play a prominent role in the classroom even after the pandemic subsides.