Tag Archives: vulnerable

The students and the educational system Left Behind

28 Feb

When I first imagined a Masters in International Education I thought I was going to compare and analyze different educational systems across the world. I had it all planned out in my mind, I wanted to write my thesis about how U.S. educational system is designed to fail its students through their absurd obsession with standardized testing. Nothing happened like expected and there was no thesis to be written.

A couple of weeks ago two friends brought to my attention two similar articles about the realities and consequences of standardize testing – the unpreparedness of students going to College and how standardize testing hurts children with disabilities. I strongly recommend you to read them.

As a former special education teacher I can confidently say that I was one of those teachers getting low evaluations because my students wouldn’t show a “significant” progress. A certain percent of the entire school special education population had to get above certain score in order for the school- and for us the teachers- to make it to safe heavens. My students were often treated more like numbers and labels rather than capable students. Every progress (personal or academic) they made was often diminished by those absurd standards set up by standardize testing. Subsequently, most of my students, just like the girl from the article, felt incompetent and stupid when taking such tests. Those two weeks of testing were the worst two weeks of the year for them. Their self-confidence was at its lowest and this kind of testing was a perfect trigger for anxiety and panic attacks.

I knew my students well, I knew what they learned and what not, the way they learned better and I know that the ways in which they grew personally and academically could not be measured by a standardized test. Parents, general ed teachers, and students themselves knew and noticed such progress, but the pressure is such that before their eyes the “real deal” was their standardized test score. It was very painful and heartbreaking to see my students go through the entire process. I ended up spending my time teaching to the test (not by choice…) – a set of “skills” that students will actually never use in real life. After teaching for only two years I became bitter and helpless and I left the system disappointed.

I honestly believe that the inclusive education model (and perhaps the entire system) needs to be revised and reformed to better and truly serve our kids. The day our education system stops being so politicized MAYBE that will be the day when we will stop failing our students with disabilities and we might then treat them more as capable human beings rather than just as a label with a price tag. And that absurd obsession with foolish standardize testing and their guidelines and modified tests for kids with disabilities means nothing to them or to their families. It’s a mere bureaucracy and a misuse of time.

I have very strong feelings against standardized testing in general, but when it comes to students with disabilities, I think it’s the most absurd thing!! It’s just a political thing and a huge waste of students’ and teachers’ time. If we look into it, I am pretty sure we can find other ways to measure and assess student achievement and teacher accountability. But then again I guess standardized testing is a multi-million industry…

Indonesia’s mentally ill and its “banned ‘pasung’ practice”

14 Feb

In Ghana’s rural communities they have rituals to kill the “spirit child” while in Indonesia they shackle them and confine them to small places to prevent them from attacking other-  like a wild animal. IRIN (humanitarian news and analysis) published an article today called Tackling shackling of the mentally ill in Indonesia.

The Indonesia Health Ministry estimates 19 million people nationwide have various mental health disorders, of which18 million live in rural areas. Currently, Indonesia counts with 33 specialized mental health hospitals and 600 psychiatrists to attend 19 million people.

The ‘pasung’ practice (shackling) was banned since 1977 and in 2011 the Health Ministry launched the campaign “Menuju Indonesia Bebas Pasung” or in English “Towards a Shackle-free Indonesia”, but hasn’t made much progress due to the lack of trained health professionals and the lack of funding. Despite those efforts by the government people are still embracing the pasung practice it in both rural and urban communities. People with mental disorders are being shackled behind their homes and/or inside their homes in small rooms to avoid stigma.

Mental health institutions (long-term) have become the solution to mental health prevalence among many developing countries. Such institutions are understaffed, under resourced, and highly costly to sustain for the kind of services they inevitably fail to provide. What is considered a “severe” disability justifying institutionalization in these countries may be a minor disability in other countries that would require limited family and professionals support to integrate disabled people back into society. In countries such Indonesia, where their health care system is decentralized, is very easy to ‘allocate’ or not allocate funds to some regions and the federal government does not have a final registry on how many adults, youth and children are placed in public mental health institutions throughout the country. Needless to say, reports on abuses and maltreatment are nonexistent. Placement of children with disabilities these institutions increases their vulnerability to violence making children easy prey. By funding long- term mental care institutions, instead of funding people, governments are hampering the social, economic, and educational development of the country

While people all over the world try to escape stigma and prejudice by others, they much rather kill, ignore, maltreat, and fear their own family members. Why are we so scared of disabilities? I insist the more we don’t talk about it, the more we contribute to the stigma.

We can’t change what others will say, think or feel towards people with disabilities, but we sure can change the way we make feel our loved ones suffering from a mental health disorder.

We are all vulnerable: Ending the Stigma

13 Nov

As everyone with a television (or ears) knows, the devastation that Hurricane Sandy has left in it’s wake, both in the Caribbean and all the way up to the Northeast, has been unthinkable. Certainly in the greater New York City area, preparation for such an event was severely lacking, and response has been labored and incredibly challenging for the thousands of souls working to assist those affected. After volunteering for a week with the American Red Cross, helping to start up operations on Staten Island just days after Sandy hit, I wanted to write a post in The League about how this event highlights a mutual susceptibility to devastation in the face of climate change. Low and behold, through the INEE listserve comes a message that I could not have written better myself. I pass along the words of INEE Director Lori Heninger from an email entitled “We are all vulnerable: Ending the Stigma.”

Dear INEE Members,

As most of you know, Hurricane Sandy recently hit the Caribbean — particularly the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba — and then rode up the eastern coast of the United States, leaving death and destruction in its wake.  I have two reasons for writing this message.

First, on behalf of the INEE Secretariat, I want to thank everyone who has sent emails, made calls, and thought about those of us in the Secretariat based in New York. These messages were deeply appreciated by the entire Secretariat, and we are very grateful for such a committed, caring membership.  Although power is still out in some areas, the Secretariat made it through the storm relatively unscathed.

Hurricane Sandy over the Caribbean, en route to the United States. 

Photo: NOAA National Hurricane Center

Second, this storm has driven home the fact that, as with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan, all of us — no matter our stage in development or geographic location — live in situations of vulnerability.  Earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis have no care whether they impact a “developed” or a “developing” country: when the ground shakes, or the water floods in, or the wind rips the roofs from schools, we see that nature is not biased.

And it is not just nature that makes us vulnerable. Having experienced first-hand both the events of New York City during 11 September 2001 and London during the 2005 bombings, I am clear that violence is not just something that happens “somewhere else,” but can happen anywhere, at any time, and can take many forms. In all instances, schools were closed due to disruption or destruction.

People walk on a street full of debris after the hurricane hit Santiago de Cuba.

Photo: Desmond Boyland/REUTERS

In New York and New Jersey, many students returned to school after a week of closure; transportation systems were disrupted, schools were flooded, there was no power, or schools were used for shelters. Sound familiar? A major difference is that in New York, most schools opened after only a week of being closed. School closures in other situations, for many reasons, can and do last much longer.

Yellow cabs line a flooded street in Queens, New York in hurricane Sandy’s wake.
Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features

Here in the eastern US, we have developed infrastructure, contingency planning, and resources to deal with crises; however, people still die, homes are destroyed, and schools close.  This situation of course cannot compare with the recent floods in Pakistan that killed over 400 or the devastation in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that affected millions.  My message is simply that the stigma of vulnerability as something that happens in “other places” is false. We are all affected by crisis, conflict and the results of natural hazard.

The sooner and more deeply we can see how these occurrences link us, rather than divide us, the sooner we can work together to ensure that as much is done as possible to prevent crises and minimize destruction so that lives, and education, are disrupted as little as possible.

Lori Heninger, PhD.
INEE Director