The GPL Centre, which has been open since 1994, accepts children from 3-13 years of age, who have a hearing or visual impairment, speech and language problems, or learning difficulties, but who are intellectually able to benefit from an academic education, albeit basic.
This is only made possible by overcoming whatever it is which prevented them from learning e.g. a deaf child who does not wear hearing aids will not be able to learn, but once appropriate aids are fitted, the child enters the hearing world and can begin to talk, listen, and learn. Similarly, a visually impaired child may benefit from spectacles, or from a text enlarger and large print books to help him follow his class.
All will be done to help a child to remain within the normal school system, and he will be removed only if all concerned – teachers, parents, and doctors – feel that it is in the child’s best interests to move him to a Special Needs class.
Unfortunately, early detection is still not commonplace in Rodrigues and so the child’s problem may not be discovered until he starts pre-primary or even primary school.
Children with learning difficulties are given appropriately graded activities which are within their abilities and this helps raise their self-confidence and allows them to re-enter and enjoy the learning world. However, this requires time, especially if the child has spent several years falling further and further behind his peers, and it is not always possible for him to catch up sufficiently to reintegrate the normal school system. Since most of our children do not achieve a standard to attempt to pass the CPE exams, we are able to take all the time necessary for each child to fully understand one topic before moving on to the next, and revision and assessments are carried out regularly. Nevertheless, our pupils are taught Maths, French, Geography, Science, and some English, from the prescribed text books, as well as non-academic subjects like Music, Art and Crafts, Sports, and Life Skills. Most children are able to achieve Std 3 or 4 level.
Classes at the GPL Centre are small, with a maximum of 6 children in a group, so that the pupils are given almost individual attention. Teaching is activity based and practical to stimulate and maintain the interest of children who often have a short attention span. We use positive motivation, with rewards in the form or stars and stickers for work well done, and mistakes are not marked as wrong, but are explained and redone. Children are encouraged to ask questions, and especially to help one another in order to encourage responsibility and self-esteem.
The reason behind the introduction of a pre-primary unit in the GPL Centre was precisely to identify children with difficulties at an earlier age than 5 years so that their problems may be solved before the gap is too great, and some of these children are in fact able to join their local primary school at 5/6 years of age.
An anecdote: a little boy who came to the GPL Centre at 3 years of age, very disturbed with no spoken language or acceptable behavior, joined his local primary school at 6 years of age and was 1st in his class at the end of Std 1.