They say that looking into Angelica's eyes has a moving effect. They say her timid words are flights of imagination.
Although a degenerative disease has prevented her from returning to school, her ambulatory teacher, family, and friends are those who now make her smile in a home classroom constructed especially for her.
For those in charge of her learning, her progress is a matter of pride, as it is for Cuba's special education system with an eloquent history of creating opportunities and access for all, in accordance with its humanist principles, since the Special Education Department was established in 1962.
Thus began a period of updating and transformation for this area of education, with the goal of being in step with the times. A central conviction guided the process, expressed by its principle architect, the leader of the Cuban Revolution, who said, "Teach everyone everything they can be taught. All of them and each one!"
Dr. Marlen Triana Mederos, national director of the sub-system, said, "Special Education in Cuba is based on the same principles as general education," and referred to the transformations in which she is immersed, noting, "Today special education is redefining its role, working to provide attention to girls, boys, and adolescents with special educational needs, in whatever context they may find themselves."
Attending a special education center is not obligatory, even if parents recognize their value and consider them ideal, Mederos explained, emphasizing the "essentially transitory" nature of these schools, since the fundamental goal is inclusion.
In terms of this principle, plus those of equality and equity - key values for special education in Cuba - the figures available are revealing, but even more so is the evidence provided by the daily work of teachers, educational psychologists, and speech therapists; the progress of students in regular and special schools; the material resources at their disposal; and in the opportunity to graduate and become employed.
As a result of early detection and attention to special educational needs, Dr. Mederos explains, the number of students enrolled in the program has declined over the last few years, (See graph) with specialists at Diagnostic and Orientation Centers in every municipality playing a key role.
What has been accomplished here has also been possible in other parts of the world, thanks to Cuba's commitment to sharing knowledge. At this time, for example, the country is providing professional assistance to member countries of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, in the establishment of a disability center.
Here are just some examples of what can be done when everyone together struggles for the dreams of some. Many challenges remain in eliminating physical barriers, as well as teacher staffing and training, recognizes Mederos. Nevertheless the desire persists to coax a smile from someone like Angélica, who has learned to challenge our imaginations.
MAJOR PROJECTIONS FOR IMPROVING SPECIAL EDUCATION
- Elaboration of methodological guides to address special educational needs at different levels and in accordance with each disability
- Supporting the leading role of teachers in making adjustments to the general curriculum, as part of an experiment in 18 schools for students with intellectual disabilities and one for hearing impaired students
- Experimenting with specific academic subjects in terms of each disability and the needs of each student
- Translating each grade's new texts and workbooks to Braille, to serve the visually impaired
- Support work with families, extending such efforts beyond the parents to other relatives
- Enlisting families to play a leading role in preparation of the student's curriculum
- A new conception of vocational training, considering the level of development of students' work abilities
- Establishing a project to support students with behavioral issues