Lots of effort and understanding, along with quality teacher training, brings out the best in a child
The project: "Raising the competences of secondary school teachers to work with children with special education needs," implemented by the Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Education and the Association - Life with Down Syndrome (supported by UNICEF), will train 126 teachers from 25 secondary schools of Sarajevo to work in inclusive classes, while their schools will get a chance to establish a team for a better implementation of inclusion. Marsela Korjenić, professor of Secondary School of Commerce in Sarajevo and one of the workshop participants within the project, said that before the training she did not have any kind of formal support and training to work in an inclusive classroom.
"When a boy with special needs appeared among the first grade students, who have me as their homeroom teacher, all that I had was a strong desire to help him become a part of the class. My colleagues helped me with advice as much as they could, the principal supported me, I established contact with his mother who helped me a lot, but many difficulties came along the way and I managed them to the best of my ability. Many children did not accept him as a member of the class right away, it took a lot of time for me to learn how to respond to some of his behavior, although he is really a great kid, exhibiting discipline and calmness in the classroom," Marsela Korjenić told us after her class that we attended.
"Even though I was able to manage, in all of that I felt kind of alone. From the literature I was able to obtain a UNICEF book on inclusion, “From our World of Diversities”, which helped me in terms of learning other experiences, but still many things were lacking," Marsela said, adding that she is happy to have the opportunity to participate in professional training with other teachers for the first time, to share experiences with them and share her experiences with those who did not yet have inclusive classes in their homeroom teacher work.
"I faced prejudice from the very beginning; I needed support and assistance to know how to work on breaking it. There are still many questions: what if a parent does not want to accept that the child has special needs? How to keep or restore the focus of the child...?” Marsela asks, adding that she would like for the project to continue and that as many teachers as possible receive the necessary basic information, so that later they could work together to better solve any problems that might arise. She said it would be wise to launch a free number and hire professionals that teachers could call and ask for advice. Marsela believes that an ideal solution would be for schools to have access to special educators and other professionals, and for teachers to have assistants who would help them in class, but she would be satisfied with an occasional visit from a mobile team of experts, which would represent a form of support to other teachers who work with her homeroom class, which includes the child with special needs.
"This is about a completely different concept. No matter what, I have to be mindful of his needs; I must not neglect the needs of all children in the class, who may feel neglected if I devote too much attention to him. His mother is helping me a lot and we usually for him say that he is a specific boy. For example, he went to an international primary school, his English is excellent and I have to translate into English some of the terms that he does not understand, so that he could understand them better. He is rather emotional and often starts crying when one of his classroom friends gets a bad grade, which affects him," Marsela said, adding that lots of effort can bring out the best in the child and train the child to be able to work after the secondary school. In the class that we attended, we truly did not notice the difference between children. The children did drawings with contrasts, and Marsela was equally dedicated to all of them. "What is important is to start applying inclusion as early as possible!" Marsela said supporting her argument with examples in practice:
"In the class I have several students who went to inclusive classes in elementary school and they have been of great help. They were the first to accept him, socialize with him, their parents accepted everything very well and they acted positively on other friends in the class to accept him," Marsela said.
In one of the workshops that we attended, a group of secondary school teachers, Marsela among them, successfully "transformed themselves" into students and attentively participated in the work. Lecturer Lejla Kafedžić with the Department of Pedagogy, Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo, told us that the training within the project is useful, but that it is also a foundation that later needs to be built upon, while those in charge must put additional efforts into this.
"I see a great desire in them, but they lack basic teaching resources and institutional support. Most do good things driven by their humanism (at the individual level), they invest a great effort ... and it is visible, but they all need a huge support," Lejla Kafedžić told us, adding that in those workshops, she covers a wide range of subjects – from the topics informing teachers about the laws and basic concepts, to the particular and practical steps, for example, how to develop an individual program and run an inclusive class.
"This training provides them with the foundation where they get a different concept, they can understand that everyone must work to the best of their abilities: from the school, through the parents to the children, and that ultimately, whatever they do – the child should always be in the focus," Lejla Kafedžić said.
In addition to direct contact with lecturers - the method that was used in the workshop that we have attended, the teachers work individually or in groups receiving tasks after each part of the training. This method is a part of the FAD methodology - distance learning, which is also implemented through 22 work hours of teachers. The FAD methodology implies the presence of a mentor as a person who is a facilitator, providing support during the learning. As stated in the explanation of the Project, the organizational and spatial requirements (typical for a traditional training) are overcome in this way, allowing the training attendees to choose the time and the place when they want to learn individually also after the formal training.
The first part of the training is completed in mid June and continues with the start of the next school year. Sretko Žmukić and Abid Fejzić, representatives of the Ministry of Education, Science and Youth of the Sarajevo Canton work with workshops attendees, in cooperation with Aida Hodžić, representative of the Association - Life with Down Syndrome and lecturers Sanja-Gena Handžar, Lejla Kafedžić, Aida Abdulović, Zineta Bogunić and Sandra Bjelan.