INTRODUCING NEW STAGE OF INCLUSIVE EDUCATION PRACTICE IN ARMENIA
A new style of cooperation between Government and NGO sector. At Ani Hotel the Minister of Education and Science and Bridge of Hope NGO have invited the Minister’s Steering Committee Meeting titled “Importance of turning to universal inclusive education in Mainstream Education sector”.
The list of invitees included members of the Steering Committee, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, heads or deputy heads of regional authorities, representatives of international and local organizations dealing with disability issues and other interested state bodies. The meeting was chaired by Committee Chairman, Minister of Education and Science Armen Ashotyan.
His opening speech was impressive being both touching, emotional and emerging in the context of challenges the inclusive education is facing and also encouraging in view of commitment the Minister and his staff handle to achieve the “dream of having universal inclusive education system”.
He mentioned that this is a first time that the Minister’s steering committee is invited jointly with civil society demonstrating innovative approach of cooperation between government and NGO. The long way Armenia passed in the way of introducing the inclusive education was not easy and it is because of stereotypical views of society on disability and people with disabilities. After adoption of the Law on Amendments to Mainstream Education Law, the legal barriers to inclusive education are almost removed. Now it is the turn of Law implementation and commitment from all levels of authority and society to accept the rights of all children to and in education. “Inclusive education is a way to inclusive and kind society. And we should promote the education of children with disabilities bring them back to society giving them chance to realize their full potential, to all children and especially to those who for whatever reasons have been marginalized from full participation in the social life. Inclusive education is core step and unique opportunity to build a good society. Dream of having universal inclusive education system is also dream of many rich countries and Armenia’s commitment towards implementing this dream is highly recognized as a leader in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union countries.” He believes that the problem is in public perception and the prejudices and stereotypes towards children with disabilities are coming from the Soviet society, where “we are not used to seeing children with disabilities, they were isolated and we continue with ostrich policy to think that we are surrounded only by people like us. But the Mother Nature was not kind to many children and they are not guilty that they were born with or acquire health problems. The primary responsibility of the public is to perceive all children as citizens of society, in the broadest sense of the word”, said the minister.
Following to the Legal requirement, all schools in Armenia must be ready for inclusive education by 2025. Currently, 180 schools nationwide are working with inclusive education practice and the results are encouraging. Recently he had visited an orphanage and a residential care institution of vulnerable children and looking in the eyes of these children, looking how they speak, move or play he could easily recognize where these children are studying. The children who go to inclusive mainstream school differ from those who study at the special school. “This is not because the conditions are bad or education is poor at the special school. No. Thanks to regular monitoring of NGOs and civil society the conditions and education, resources at special schools are much better now. But the feeling and self-esteem of a child are low. “
The Action Plan of activities is already approved and Ministry knows what they should do every year. But public support and especially the support of international donor partners is of great need. Giving the floor to the President of Bridge of Hope NGO he mentioned that "the education sector professionals are required to make our dream a reality. I believe in what we do. I am excited about this idea and if there are will and confidence we can implement every law and regulation”.
The President of Bridge of Hope NGO was the second keynote speaker. She had a very impressive presentation which in fact was a strong advocacy tool to promote universal inclusive education and gain the commitment of all levels of decision makers and international and local partners alike towards achieving inclusion of all children in education.
She presented the main changes to the Law, logic and main requirements. In particular, she mentioned that Law on Mainstream Education as it is now after amendments is a revolutionary Law as it views all children equal, every statement in law emphasizes that it is about every child, without separation and did not require any additional law for children with special educational needs. She explained the new approach of funding for inclusive education, which requires supplementary resources only for the education of children with moderate and severe problems. The previous funding mechanism was creating artificial barriers to education of children with severe problems as the schools had no motivation of enrolling them and many children with disabilities appear out of education system. And recognizing that schools will need additional support to provide services to these children the Law requires the special schools to become resource centers for mainstream schools. All special schools in Armenia will gradually become resource centers by 2022.
The Law introduced a three-tier system for responding to the child's educational needs: school specialists at the school level, with new staff – teacher’s assistant; pedagogical and psychological support by regional pedagogical and psychological support centers and third level for resolving complaints or methodological support by national pedagogical and psychological support centers.
Assessment of special educational needs is also reformed with the introduction of bio-social-psychological approach to disability based on WHO International Classification of Functions, disability, and Health (ICF). The new approach requires assessing children in their regular environment focusing on activity and participation of a child and revealing the barriers or facilitators to his/her full participation.
Individual Education Plan obtains the status of the legal document with these amendments and will be the basis for assessing the child’s progress and achievements since now on.
All these tool, regulations and documents were developed within OSF ECP London funded “Bridging Gap between Mainstream and Special Education” Project implemented by BoH from 2012 to 2015. But the possibility of having universal inclusive education system and benefits of teachers’ assistants as well as the WHO ICF based assessment of disability were introduced and piloted with Mission Armenia Douche Benevolent Organization in Tavush region of Armenia between 2009 and 2013. USAID and UNICEF will continue the support to the actual implementation of adopted mechanisms and regulations within the scope of new project “Toward Social Inclusion of Vulnerable Children: Expanding Alternative Care, Family Support and Inclusive Education Services as Part of Child Care Reform” started since 2015.
UNICEF and Save the Children representatives presented their commitment and programs towards achieving this dream. The active discussion and exchange of opinions demonstrated the high interest of participants towards this important actions.