Children With Down Syndrome Remembered
The following is Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts Mahendra Reddy’s statement on World Down Syndrome Day marked today.
March 21 has been adopted by the General Assembly as the date to observe World Down Syndrome Day. In the various Special Schools around Fiji, we have children who are living with this condition and therefore, I request all stakeholders to get together and observe this important day with their students.
What is Down Syndrome condition?
As humans, we have 23 pairs of chromosomes but a person with Down Syndrome has an additional chromosome in the 21st pair. Instead of having two, the person with Down Syndrome has 3 chromosomes which causes the immature physical and mental conditions. Therefore, the observance of this condition falls on the 21st day of the 3rd month of every year, signifying the numbers 21 and 3. The date 21st denotes the 21st chromosome that is affected, and the month of March denotes the 3rd month, which depicts the 3 chromosomes instead of the normal 2.
Down syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality named after the British physician John Langdon Down, who first identified the condition in 1866. The defect occurs during the formation of reproductive cells in a parent. The condition is present from birth and affects physical appearance, as well as the ability to learn and develop mentally. The physical development of children with Down syndrome tends to be slower than others without the condition and they have problems developing mentally, including speech issues.
Empowerment of Children with Down Syndrome
This year marks the 12th anniversary of international observance of Down Syndrome Day with the theme “My Voice, My Community: Enabling people with Down syndrome to speak up, be heard and influence government policy and action, to be fully included in the community”.
Special and Inclusive Education has been a vital component of the current Fijian Educational Movement. The 2013 Constitution of the Republic of Fiji includes significant provisions for persons with disabilities including the right to reasonable access to all places, public transport and information; sign language, Braille and other means of communication; reasonable access to necessary material, substances and devices relating to the person’s disability; reasonable adaptation of buildings, practices and procedures to enable their full participation in society and the effective realisation of their rights. Furthermore, the Constitution enshrines the right of every person to early childhood, primary, secondary and further education. In addition, the right to access quality education in local schools is supported by various Acts and captured in the Ministry of Education’s Policy on Effective Implementation of Special and Inclusive Education.
The Special Education Schools in Fiji will play the key lead role to our observance by creating school and community awareness and enlightening people to support the full inclusion of children with Down Syndrome. The Special & Inclusive Education Policy framework has strengthened access to quality education for all students with special needs in all Special Education Schools, Regular Early Childhood Centres, Primary, Secondary and Technical Schools throughout Fiji.
The majority of children with Down syndrome in Fiji are attending Special Schools. A lot of them attend the Suva Special School, Lautoka Special School, Sunshine Special School, Nadi Special School, Labasa Special School, Norah Frazier Special School, Ra Special School and Ba Special School. Some children with Down Syndrome are already in mainstream schools. This is in light of the inclusive education policy we have implemented in schools. Some of these inclusive schools are: Tavua District Primary School, Ratu Latianara Primary School, Arya Samaj Primary School, Adi Maopa and South Taveuni Primary school.
Although a Down Syndrome student can participate in all school activities, there are some important things to be mindful of. Most children with Down Syndrome have better receptive language than expressive language thus, teachers can create activities for these children in an inclusive and friendly way. Some strategies include:
Establishing class routines clearly;
Establishing a clear communication mode;
Using social stories to teach;
Using a lot of pictures, resources, and other modes of learning; and
Involving the child and his/her family.
Early Intervention programme is very important for them, particularly to establish routines and speech or communication means.
Information sharing session for teachers and parents
The Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts will hold a one day information sharing session for teachers and parents of children with Down Syndrome in the various divisions.
It is aimed that all participants to these sessions have a thorough understanding of what Down Syndrome is, its characteristics and implications on teaching and learning, the Student Profile and for them to feel confident in implementing the shared strategies.
The main target groups of the awareness programmes are the parents and teachers of children with Down Syndrome.
Parents of children with Down Syndromes have a lot of information about their child’s development stages and we encourage them to share this information with the teachers.
They also need to know their roles and responsibilities in the education of their children. Accommodating the diverse needs of these students will open doors for them to progress in their studies and create further pathways to employment.
Education is the fundamental right of every human being. Most other rights will automatically be realised once education is filtered through every aspect of human survival.
The focus all over the world and in Fiji is the drive to provide equitable educational opportunities for all, including people with special needs and people with disabilities. Inclusive education is a tactic that empowers all children to experience a sense of belonging within their local school. It is based on the principle that all children have the right to fully participate in all school activities and their communities alongside their peers, and the understanding that all children can learn – if they are provided with an appropriate learning environment, appropriate equipment, and parental support.
Gone are the days when children with special needs were ignored, separated and left to rue their disabilities. Today we are building on the strengths of these children and uplifting them to take ownership and become key contributors to nation building, peace and prosperity.
The future of children with disabilities in Fiji is increasingly optimistic. Where children with disabilities have access to quality education, they are more likely to learn skills and gain confidence which assist them to attain paid work in adulthood, which can break the cycle of poverty that people with disabilities around the world are often trapped in.
Under the Bainimarama Government, we understand that all Fijians will contribute effectively to national aspirations and people with special needs and disabilities are core to this national vision.