Cyprus Mail

Probe into how Down’s Syndrome teen was given standard exam paper

EDUCATION Minister Costas Hambiaouris on Friday said a probe was launched into complaints that a 13-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome was given the same mathematics exam paper at the mainstream school she attends as the rest of the pupils and as a result she did not get a passing grade.

The girl will now have to take makeup exams in September.

The incident has angered the girl’s family and organised groups, which reported the incident to the education ministry.

Secondary teachers’ trade union Oelmek argued however that the law stipulates that all pupils must be given the same final exam papers.

Hambiaouris said on Friday that he was informed of the situation on Thursday and had already given instructions for a probe to be launched “so that I can have a more comprehensive picture on how to deal with the case having always the best interest of the child in mind.”

He confirmed that according to what the head teacher told him, the girl had been given the same exam paper as the other pupils.

The minister said he would be able to take a position after the probe was over and that an announcement would be made in due time.

Hambiaouris said that the ministry sent to mainstream schools a few months ago, a circular instructing them to give differentiated assessment essays.

The minister said he asked for psychologists and competent officials to visit the school in question, and the girl’s family “to see how we can manage the situation for the child to feel happy.”

The head of the Down’s Syndrome Association, Andreas Christodoulou, said the girl’s cognitive development has been much better than many other children with Down’s Syndrome. Despite that, her parents and the association had to fight for her to go to a mainstream school after the education ministry had initially decided to send her to a special unit. After a long battle, she was finally admitted to the school in question a month-and-a half after the new academic year started, he said.

But at the school, he said, “warfare” broke out between teachers supporting the girl’s presence there and those who did not think it was a good idea. The mathematician who gave her a fail mark, as well as the head teacher, were among the latter, he said.

“To prove their point, they created this whole issue,” Christodoulou told state broadcaster CyBC.

But the head of Oelmek, Yiannos Socratous, said that regulations for special education in mainstream schools are outdated, arguing that the law currently stipulates that special-education pupils ought to take final exams at the same level and demands as the other pupils.

The circular the education ministry sent in April, he said, concerns assessments made during the semesters and not the final exams paper.

Socratous said further investigation into the incident was necessary because the school said it had repeatedly sent letters to the ministry on how to handle things, without any response.

Hambiaouris said efforts continue to change the law on special education and that the ministry was in contact with experts from abroad who have been in Cyprus several times while a cooperation agreement with the European Commission has been renewed for another 18 months.

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