By Krystal R. Martinez Souchet
April 23, 2009
There are numerous problems in Puerto Rico’s educational system. The lack of materials, teachers, staff, and services seems to be the norm in many schools. The program of special education is not the exception. Although is established that each child has the right to receive an education of quality to learn the concepts that will help him succeed, this not always accomplished.
According to the Law for the Education of Individuals with Incapacities (IDEA), the special education program consists in a special training designed to fulfill the unique needs of students with disabilities. Approximately 88 thousand children receive special education in public schools, according to tendenciaspr.com. Miriam Souchet, an elementary school teacher in the school Adolfo Grana Rivera School in Peñuelas, recognizes the existence of problems in the special education area. Souchet mentions that the absence of technological attendance constitutes a great obstacle to provide a good education. The lack of materials like photocopiers, books, computers, and recorders constitutes a problem for students that without the necessary equipment cannot receive an appropriate education. However, Souchet recognizes that the acquisition of scholastic materials is faster and easier that what it used to be, but sometimes materials need to be adapted for students with more severe impediments.
Another main obstacle pointed by Souchet is the excess of administrative work. The time that is invested dealing with papers and forms could be used in providing a better education. It is difficult to maintain a balance between taking care of students and fulfill administrative tasks.
She mentioned that the area in special education that has a greater student population is the one of learning problems. During the past years she has observe an increase in the number of parents who ask for special education for their children. “Years ago most parents were skeptical about the program, but nowadays the number of parents that are interested in receive some type of special education for their children has increased”.
Ana Castro, a supervisor of Special Education in the Humacao Region, agrees that schools confront many difficulties to provide the services that students with disabilities require. She mentions how the inappropriate physical facilities inhibit the capacity of offering alternatives of location and mobility for some students.
In terms of integrated education Castro states the example of a group of regular students in which more than five students of special education are present in the class. In this case it becomes very hard to provide an individualized aid and adapt the material for each of them. “It’s necessary to remember that students with disabilities are in disadvantage compared with regular students”. Special education students are the ones that suffer the consequences when regular teachers do not pay the necessary attention to their special education needs. Even their grades are not as good as they could be, and as a result many problems arise.
The deficiencies in the program of special education affect greatly the academic progress of the students. The supervisor recognizes that during the past years special education has improved, but there is much that still needs to be done. One of the improvements has been the requirement of academic credits in special education for all teachers regardless of their specialization area. Before this requirement, there was a lot of discrimination towards the students of special education, perhaps by ignorance. Nowadays discrimination still exists, and it is observed when regular teachers are required to provide necessary arrangements for students with special education. Some regular teachers consider these necessary arrangements as a task that takes an additional time and effort.
Castro considers that there is a necessity of more teachers capable of attending students with more severe impediments. Problems like autism, emotional disturbances, and blindness are hard to treat because some teachers are not prepared to attend such cases.
As recommendations to improve the special education both interviewees agree that a more rigorous training to regular teachers will help them offer more aid to special education students. An additional resource for regular teachers with many students of special education in a classroom is another option. This would help improve the negative attitude of some regular teachers towards special education students and the arrangements they have to do with them. Another recommendation is to strictly follow the requirement of scholastic organization that states the priority of assigning classrooms must begin with the special education program, something that rarely happens. However, both of them agree that the education of a student is a responsibility that belongs not only to teachers and school; parents need to be present and show interest for their child’s education.
Both educators agree that if we compared the special education of 50 years ago with the present one, it has improved much. There was a time when the majority of people with special needs did not receive any kind of free education. As Souchet mentions, even though the many obstacles that these students confront, many students still succeed.