FSM Information Services
In Quest for Equity in Education, First Lady Edwin Visits Children with Special Needs in Schools & Homes
PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On November 11th, 2020, His Excellency David W. Panuelo, President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), having completed a thorough review of the FSM’s Education Sector Development Plan for 2020 to 2024 and, having recently endorsed a Congressional Resolution accepting a grant of $2,844,888.90 in funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to support the FSM Special Education Program under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), received an update from First Lady Patricia E. Edwin who, in a quest for improving equity (fairness) in education, has been visiting children with special needs in schools and homes. The First Lady, who has partnered with the Nation’s educators, has been asked by President Panuelo to help in tackling this part of the Nation’s implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
First Lady Edwin has a personal investment in ensuring that the Nation’s children, including its children in special education programming, receive the assistance they need. As of November 11th, 2020, First Lady Edwin has thus far conducted two formal school visits and four formal home visits, accompanied by staff from the FSM National Department of Education and the Pohnpei State Department of Education.
Challenges facing special education students across the Nation are both significant in scope as well as effect. The FSM Education Sector Strategic Plan 2020-2024 describes, for example, that 83% of special education students graduate from their elementary school site to their secondary school site; then, 64% of special education students in secondary school graduate with their high school diploma. In other words, if there are 100 hypothetical students, then 83 of them will graduate from elementary school (with 17 of them dropping out)—and then, of those 83 in high school, 55 will graduate. Of the original 100 students, 45 will not complete their formal public education in both elementary and secondary schools.
Increasingly, First Lady Edwin is of the view that the reasons behind the significant student dropout rates amongst children with special needs are intricate and multifaceted, and that a simple explanation, and cure, for these systemic issues is implausible. Using Pohnpei State as an example, for the 679 students this academic year in Pohnpei State with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), there is a total of $33,950 for instructional supplies. This is $50 in instructional supplies for each child with special needs. It seems likely, to the First Lady, that the funding for instructional supplies may not be enough; by extension, it seems likely that instructional supplies, or the lack thereof, are not the only reason for poor academic performance and high dropout rates.
“One of the things that I’ve heard so far,” First Lady Edwin said in a statement, “Is that parents are fearful that, after [Early Childhood Education] or 1st grade, many special needs children with physical disabilities are not able to go to school anymore. They get too big or too heavy for parents to carry to school, especially if they live in remote areas. While homeschool services are implemented, I am seeing that services occur, on paper, once per week. In practice? It can be less than that sometimes if they don’t have the resources, or if they lack the transportation, or the personnel.”
First Lady Edwin is looking forward to strengthening her partnership with the FSM National and Pohnpei State Departments of Education in seeking solutions to these issues. Meanwhile, the First Lady intends to reach out to the Yap, Chuuk, and Kosrae Departments of Education in the near future, for a similar purpose.
“At this precise moment in time,” First Lady Edwin said, “We can draw public attention to this issue and say: this is a problem. We have children in this Paradise in Our Backyards who are being left behind. I don’t know that I know the solution to this problem yet, but I am determined to find it, in partnership with our Nation’s educators and parents. In the meantime, there is value in continuing our national conversation on how we are preparing our children [in special education programs] to participate in our democracy for when they become adults.”