UNICEF and EU rapporteur recognise good practices in inclusive and integrated education
SKOPJE/KUMANOVO, 8 November 2012: During his November visit to the country, Mr Richard Howitt, member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Rapporteur for the country’s EU accession, visited a local primary school to discuss the importance of inclusive education, and learn more about progress in ensuring that children with special needs are able to enjoy their right to an education. In his visit to the Dimo Hadzi Dimov School, Mr. Howitt was joined by Mr. Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative and the mayor of the Karpos municipality, Mr. Stevce Jakimovski.
With the support of UNICEF, the school was a pioneer in introducing inclusive education - accepting and supporting children regardless of their background or ability. The school now includes approximately 30 children with Special Education Needs (SEN) among its 1,100 student body, and the school inclusion team is training other education professionals across the country.
“The goal is not just becoming part of the EU, it's understanding what it means to be part of that group, and inclusive education can help in this understanding because this includes the right of children with disabilities to live a fulfilled and high quality life just like all children in the country,” said Mr. Howitt.
The most recent EU progress report notes that “only 15% of children with disabilities are in education, mainly in specialised institutions. The lack of psychologists and education specialists employed in schools, and the existing discrimination against children with disabilities, prevent their inclusion in the education system”. The visits gave the MEP an opportunity to learn about efforts being made by dedicated individuals, as well as the remaining obstacles to ensure that all schools are inclusive and that the national education system supports inclusive education at all levels. This includes training for teachers, assistance in classrooms, specialized services, outreach staff, and financing to provide dedicated support to children and their parents.
“Both the European Union and UNICEF approach to inclusive education builds on the recognition of the need to work towards 'schools for all' - institutions which include everybody, celebrate differences, support learning, and respond to individual needs,” said Mr Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative “Inclusive education is not a marginal issue, but is central to the attainment of a high quality education for all learners and the development of more inclusive societies.”
A recent UNICEF baseline study on education based on the child-friendly school framework found that sixty-nine per cent of teachers that teach children with disabilities in this country, and fifty per cent of all teachers, feel that children with special needs do not belong in mainstream classrooms. This is not the case at Dimo Hadzi Dimov.
Speaking about how they overcame their own personal fears, parents openly shared their stories with the MEP, mayor and UNICEF Representative, noting that the teachers and school staff continuously work to reduce the level of social distance that children with disabilities face.
During a separate visit to the ethnically-mixed municipality of Kumanovo, the MEP and UNICEF Representative were joined by the Minister of Education and Science, Mr. Pance Kralev to talk with school principals and young people who are breaking down barriers between ethnic communities and reducing stereotypes.
“It is important that young people come to this centre by emphasizing their identify and values as young people and not as young people that belong to a certain ethnic community and in this way engage in activities that help them build skills for communication, inter-ethnic dialogue and cooperation,” highlighted Mr. Howitt.
“Integrated education is a long-term goal that is being achieved with ongoing support of directors and teachers in schools who believe in this goal…the continued commitment from the directors is worthy of praise,” said Mr. Pance Kralev, Minister of Education. “Continuing efforts with our partners, like UNICEF, but also non-government organizations such as those running the Multi-Kulti Center in Kumanovo will ensure our goal towards further integration.”
UNICEF support to inclusive education and integrated education form part of the Child-Friendly Schools initiative. In inclusive education, UNICEF has supported an in-depth assessment to inform a system approach to inclusive education, and guide interventions such as teacher capacity development and support to establish a parent resource centre.
The Youth Multi-Kulti Centre in Kumanovo was established with UNICEF support under MDG-F funded Joint UN Programme “Enhancing inter-ethnic community dialogue and collaboration.” As part of this programme, UNICEF supported interventions aimed at addressing capacity gaps in the education system at the national level. At the local level UNICEF helped create opportunities for interaction and cooperation among children from different ethnic/cultural groups in areas that have a history of separation and the potential for conflict still exists: Kumanovo, Kicevo and Struga.
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