Equal Partners Foundation propose plan to bridge transition gap

One of the biggest challenges faced by young people with intellectual impairment is when they reach school-leaving age, a transition which requires skills for social inclusion in the community at large and for independent living. This is the age in which young people need to find opportunities for further education that would help them enter the world of work.

However, the situation is far from satisfactory, the Equal Partners Foundation noted last week at a press conference, urging the government to cater for further inclusive education.

Although the National Minimum Curriculum states that "all students should be provided with the best possible educational experiences irrespective of their social realities and abilities", and despite the provisions in the Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act 2000, requiring that a person's development and growth be considered as crucial factors in relation to employability, "both Government and NGOs are offering less than appropriate programmes for this population", the foundation argued.

"Students who for the past 12 years have been part of inclusive school settings are not being provided continuity after the age of 16; instead they are being placed in segregated settings or expected to find employment without further preparation. Experience indicates that most students of this age group are not yet equipped to face the world of work, let alone young people with intellectual disabilities who take longer to develop their skills."

Furthermore, the Foundation strongly maintains that shutting these students away in a segregated setting, after 12 years of inclusive education, reflects the country's inadequacy to employ the full potential of its human resources.

In reality, the government has just proposed a three-year vocational educational programme for youngsters with intellectual impairment. The Pre-Budget Document states: "As from September 2007, Government intends to offer a vocational educational programme for a number of students who have an intellectual disability. This three-year programme will be offered to school leavers. This post-16 educational programme, that shall be based within a mainstream post-secondary institution, is based on the needs of young adults with individual educational needs, which are moving on from school into further education and society. The emphasis will be on vocational studies and independent living in the community."

However, with less than a month to go, no plans about this programme have been made public. Furthermore, although Equal Partners welcomes the fact that the programme is being planned to run within a mainstream post-secondary institution and not in a segregated setting, stakeholders - parents, students or schools - have not been consulted or asked to participate in the formulation of this three-year programme.

In a bid to overcome this shortcoming, the Equal Partners Foundation last week proposed a two-phase plan aimed at providing school-leavers with intellectual disabilities the necessary skills to ensure a smoother transition into adulthood and lifelong education for these students.

Phase 1 of the plan targets students in their final two years of secondary school while Phase 2 aims at helping the student get on in a post-secondary institute, of the youngster's and parents' choice.

The plan is firmly based on the assumption that opportunities for social inclusion, continuing education, employment and adequate living facilities can only be effectively provided on the basis of a thorough assessment of individual needs.

In fact, the Foundation proposes that secondary school students with a statement of educational needs are reassessed at the end of Form III and an Individual Transition Plan designed and implemented in Form IV. A stepping-out programme is to take place within the secondary school the student attends.

At the end of this phase, the students will receive a Foundation Course in Social and Practical Skills certificate, which will be used to proceed to post-secondary education.

The foundation pointed out that students with different abilities are being required to undergo the same aptitude test, which places students with intellectual impairment and learning difficulties at a disadvantage and categorically prevents them from moving on into post-secondary education.

The second phase of the plan sets out to enable students with moderate to severe disabilities to access the different post-secondary/vocational pathways and to participate fully in college activities.

A co-ordinating programme that would run from the post-secondary institute will be responsible for monitoring the students' progress, finding work placements, and recruiting tutors for students.

Equal Partners also emphasises the fact that even after the student would have found employment, lifelong learning opportunities to enhance the young adult's capabilities, such as literacy skills, arithmetic skills, computer knowledge and community and life skills, are to be provided.

Equal Partners Foundation explained how its proposal could be implemented within the framework of Government's three-year programme, if this latter proposal is to be implemented.

Meanwhile, the Foundation is proposing a pilot project, which will envisage the following steps: profiling of students who have finished Form V or the Pathway to Independent Living Course, selection of suitable institutes for the youngsters, selection of work placements to be attended by the students during their first year in post-secondary, as well as the running of a transition programme for students who are about to commence their penultimate on last year of secondary school.


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