A sponsorship agreement has been forged between the Digicel Foundation and the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) for the establishment of two inclusive classrooms in rural Jamaica.
The schools are Bethabara Infant in Manchester and China Goodwill Infant in St Thomas.
The undertaking forms part of the ECC’s Jamaica 60 Legacy Project and aligns with Digicel Foundation’s mission to invest in special needs education to increase access to students.
The signing took place on March 6 at the ECC’s Ocean Boulevard address in Kingston.
In her remarks, Executive Director of the commission, Karlene DeGrasse-Deslandes, stressed the importance of the inclusion of children with special needs.
“Education at the early childhood level is not for some children but in fact for all. The retrofitting of schools allows children with varying abilities to be engaged in a safe and child-friendly environment, ensuring their holistic development. When children are placed within the same environment, they learn to respect the difference among their peers while developing self-esteem and empathy,” she said.
She also noted that inclusion falls within the commission’s mandate to improve the quality of early childhood development.
“The 12 operating standards, which guide our regulation and monitoring process speaks to the need for schools to have wheelchair ramps, classrooms and bathrooms to accommodate children physically challenged, as well as appropriate play equipment for all children. Equality in education gives children a sense of belonging, which will lead to positive behaviour. A positive foundation has the power to lessen crime and violence in Jamaica,” DeGrasse-Deslandes added.
In her address, CEO of the Digicel Foundation, Charmaine Daniels, highlighted that the foundation will be retrofitting the two spaces to facilitate students three to six years old with mild to moderate physical and intellectual disabilities.
“Digicel Foundation will be equipping the spaces with a sensory room to be used for therapy, as well as to improve the children’s communication and functioning. Other works to the support project will include renovating an existing bathroom to support the space and constructing a ramp on the exterior for access,” she said.
Daniels also reiterated the foundation’s commitment to continue its work to increase access to children with special needs.
“Special needs is one of our key pillars. We have invested in special needs education to increase access for students at all levels. This agreement with the ECC signals our efforts to further promote the integration of inclusive education in our schools. These inclusive spaces will give children with disabilities an opportunity to fulfil themselves. Digicel Foundation will continue to work to ensure that no child is left behind,” she said.
Investing over US$10.9 million in the special needs community since its inception, the foundation has renovated 20 special needs schools across Jamaica and trained over 394 teachers and caregivers.
Renovation work at the two schools has begun and is expected to be completed by March 31.