Theorizing the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Special Needs Students and Teachers in Physical Education and Sports in Jamaica

COVID-19 Pandemic, Special Needs Students, Physical Education, Sports, Jamaica

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September 11, 2021

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Students with special needs are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Special needs students require distinct treatment and attention to function and make sense of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the routine and the special attention that are normally available to these students when they are in face-to-face school. One of the most anticipated aspects of face-to-face school is participating in physical education (PE) and sports, which provides physical, social, and psychological benefits for special needs students. However, the pandemic has forced schools online and has changed the ascetics of PE and sports. Furthermore, like a third-world country, Jamaica does not have the technological resources needed to fully engage special needs students in PE. As a result, this study sought to investigate the challenges that are facing special needs students and teachers in PE while conducting classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic, from the teacher’s perspective. The research took the form of a qualitative approach while utilizing a multiple case study design that used a purposive sampling method in selecting the four (out of 11) most prominent public special education schools in Jamaica. The results revealed that student participation in PE was significantly impacted. In some cases, up to 80% of the students were unaccounted for in PE classes since the start of the pandemic. The challenges were seen as magnified twofold, ranging from physical, psychological, social, environmental, and societal issues. The results of this study raise serious concerns about the physical health of students with special needs, with Jamaica struggling to reduce physical inactivity rates and chronic lifestyle diseases. The risk of special needs students developing secondary disabilities because of sedentary lifestyles practices is very worrying.  A lack of physical activity also means lower levels of socialization and increased psychological issues that could worsen with the strict COVID-19 lockdown measures, internet connectivity issues, and lack of devices.