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Special Education

The era from 1905 to 1945 was one of slow development in recognizing exceptional pupils and providing special classes and separate schools for their Education. Students who were blind were sent out of province to special schools in Montreal or Brantford. Students who were deaf were sent to Winnipeg until 1929, when Saskatchewan built the School for the Deaf in Saskatoon. Special classes, with an emphasis on vocational preparation, were established in larger urban centres for youth with difficulties in academic programs. Beginning in the late 1920s, students who were gifted were provided special classes in Saskatoon. Samuel Laycock of the University of Saskatchewan promoted special classes for gifted learners; to this day, the Samuel Laycock Memorial Lecture is a legacy of his influence.

The era from the 1950s to the 1970s reflected growing consciousness among both parents and professionals about the educational benefits for students with disabilities. Parents of Children with disabilities organized into effective advocacy groups and worked to develop services to improve the education of these children. Special schools for children with multiple disabilities and intellectual or cognitive disabilities were developed in larger centres, operated primarily by parents' associations. In the 1970s there was a growing awareness that students with special needs could benefit from access to a broader range of educational programs. The development of the cascade model advocated the creation of an array of instructional locations from the regular classroom to special settings. Although children had to qualify for placement based on their abilities, the model was considered a major advancement; at the same time, remedial reading teachers' roles also began evolving into that of learning resource teachers.

The era from the 1970s to the 1990s was one of much change in services and programs for children and youth with exceptional learning needs. Extensive debate focused on innovative ways to better educate students with exceptionalities in regular school programs and settings. These changes were facilitated by increasing the range of services and supports provided to neighbourhood schools and classrooms (see schools and inclusion). Reflecting changing attitudes and values, Saskatchewan amended the School Act in 1971, making mandatory the education of all students, including those with disabilities. It was the first province to do so. The funding formula for the provision of government grants to school boards was changed to a per student rate, no longer providing grants for special-education classrooms and thus encouraging schools to consider a wider range of locations where exceptional students could be served. At the school level, the educational program plan designed for each child became the critical organizer for identifying needs of students and the planned provision of services and supports.

Teacher training at the University of Saskatchewan provided a focal point in the preparation of school-based resource teachers. The expanded role of these teachers, no longer tied to the special-class model of service delivery, became a natural support to classroom teachers who were working with an increasingly diverse student body. The Shared Service model, adopted by Saskatchewan Education in 1982, reshaped support services across all provincial schools. Initially, educational psychologists and speech language pathologists were employed, but Shared Service soon expanded to include special education consultants, social workers, and counselors. The Department of Education shifted from employing provincial consultants in disability areas to drawing on personnel from school boards and deploying them to those teachers requesting consultative support. Two innovations further supported parents in seeking neighbourhood school experiences for children with disabilities. First, home-based Early Childhood Development Programs were provided for at-risk and developmentally delayed pre-school children. Second, the education regulations were changed so that school boards could provide centre-based programs for developmentally delayed children, beginning at age 3.

The period from the 1990s to the present has focused on reform efforts. Building inclusive schools was highlighted in the special education review, Directions for Diversity: Enhancing Supports for Children and Youth with Diverse Needs (2000). Strengthening schools has involved linking with professionals from other agencies. There has been a rapid expansion in the employment of educational assistants and in the use of new technologies, and an increased emphasis on accountability for better preparing students for life in the community. In an effort to make special-education teacher training more accessible, both provincial universities have reviewed their programs and introduced innovations such as technology-enhanced learning and on-line courses.

Harry Dahl, Leonard Haines

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Further Reading

Saskatchewan Education. 2000. Directions for Diversity: Final Report of the Special Education Review Committee. Regina: Saskatchewan Education.
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Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.