June 12, 2022 | Marit Severance
KRALENDIJK – For years, parents have complained about the lack of quality education in Caribbean municipalities for children with autism, for example. An interview with Minister Wiersma (Primary and Secondary Education) about special education in Caribbean municipalities caused an uproar.
Minister Wersma believes that there is already a “good experience network” on the island. According to the minister, most often the problem lies with the parents themselves, who find it difficult to “accept help” for their children. The statements led to the astonishment of parents and the educational staff.
In practice, getting help is both difficult and expensive, they say. “I was upset when I read his response,” says Vanessa Tonk. Since 2016, she began to seek help for her autistic daughter. “Year after year we visited all the emergency services. But nothing has changed in a normal school.”
“I honestly don’t know what it is.”
Minister Dennis and Paint wanted right before the interview with Caribbean Network First know what the questions are about. Then he wanted to quickly consult with a senior official before responding to the camera. “Because, frankly, I don’t really know what this is.”
Mary Crane is a speech therapist for children with autism and their parents. She also has an autistic child. She is surprised that the minister mentioned that parents in the Caribbean are often not willing to help themselves. “Because this is not my experience.”
“Parents may not always be able to formulate a request for help easily or clearly, because they do not know what the options are. But they need guidance and help from professionals.”
‘Even the kids are dropping out’
Another parent* doesn’t want to respond by name, because Bonaire is a small island. “I have seen many children in practice who needed special attention, but did not receive it. These children were sent from column to column with my child!”
Children passed without mastering educational materials, because relief organizations did not help them intensively. As a result, they even became high school dropouts.”
“I gave my child the help I needed – with everything I could – to be able to go to the exam class after all.”
“You hear parents beg for help with after-school care”
It’s not a problem of recent years, but also now, says a parent who wants to respond anonymously*. “My gifted child does not get due attention in primary school either. That is because there are about ten children in that class who need special attention. The teacher is under a lot of pressure.”
“Then, at an after-school meeting, I saw other parents almost begging for leaders to help their autistic children with their homework. This is not possible in school, because experience is not available.”
Regular schools provide insufficient help
Crane says the right thing about Minister Wersma’s comments is that there is more and more experience in Bonaire to mentor children with autism. “There are positive developments, such as the pilot in child care. There is a special class for students with autism from Mavu University to Foren University.”
But that doesn’t mean they were arranged correctly, she notes. In fact, these are often problems that parents are not to blame for. “For example, some children have to be in a small group, in a very low-stimulus environment and they have to be given a fixed structure. These are specific learning needs that the school cannot meet.”
“Only parents who have money can afford private schools”
Parents say that knowledge and experience in the field of special education is available at Hut Coral Private School. Although this school is approved by the Education Inspectorate, the school is not supported by the government.
“It is inconceivable that a child with autism in Bonaire does not receive an adequate education unless the parents have above-average incomes,” said Marie Crane, a parent and speech therapist.
“In the European Netherlands, parents have the right to choose private education. Why is that different for Caribbean municipalities?”
“Hut Coral is the prime example of how to do that, so the minister has to fund that school,” says parent Vanessa Tonk.
“The minister never went deep into the islands.”
Barbara Huveniers also followed up with Wersma. She has two children with autism, who trained as a teacher and care coordinator in Education in Bonaire. “I learned to count to ten before responding. I was about 10,000 and steam was still coming out of my ears. The minister did not go deep at all to the reflux.”
“It is absolutely ridiculous for parents to pay extra so that their child receives a proper education. It is something all children have a right to.”
“Instead of investing in information, it is now being said frankly that parents are not open to help. We live in a very small society with a culture of fear. Unfortunately, the knowledge and experience in the classroom is not so ubiquitous yet that parents can assume that their children They won’t actually get a seal.”
*Anonymous comments are included as an exception, provided that identity is known to the reporter and editors.