2000 BHG: External Evaluation of the Project "Special Classrooms for Children with Disabilities" 1997-2000
Author: Rouse, M.; Florian, L.; Connolly, J.; School of Education at the University of Cambridge
The project, ‘Special Classrooms for Children with Disabilities’ was established in 1997 by UNICEF (Bosnia and Herzegovina) with Medicins du Monde as its implementing partner in association with the Kennedy Foundation with the following objectives: (a) to provide children with disabilities the opportunity to attend special classes in regular schools; (b) to offer support, counselling and education for the parents of children with disabilities; (c) to train the teachers of the special classes; (d) to identify other children with disabilities outside of the special classes, refer them to local experts and offer support when necessary; and (e) to provide assistance in developing national policies and practices, including finance schemes, national personnel training and certification programs.
Purpose / Objective
This report presents the findings and recommendations of the external evaluation of the project "Special Classrooms for Children with Disabilities" 1997-2000 in relation to the project objectives. The findings are discussed in terms of four themes (sustainability, impact, methods and future development) identified by the project evaluation steering committee. The discussion draws upon an assessment of the project against country needs, country policy, educational practice and the existing curriculum with reference to emerging world and European trends in the area of special needs education.
The external evaluation team from the School of Education at the University of Cambridge consisted of three members. Six project schools (Gorazde, Visegrad, Banovici, Doboj, Cazin and Siroki Brijeg) selected in advance as a representative sample of schools in the project were visited during September 2000. The evaluators spent one day in each school. Observations of classroom practice took place, and individual and group semi-structured interviews with directors, supervisors, teachers and parents were carried out. The evaluators met with groups of parents in five of the six sites visited. There were also interviews with a representative from the Federal Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, members of the Pedagogical Academy in Sarajevo and the Pedagogical Institute from the Republika Srpska. In addition, key staff from UNICEF and MdM, including the Project Co-ordinator and Project Administrator, were also interviewed.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Progress in creating special classes
Overall, the project has made very good progress in meeting its objectives. By the end of the academic year 1999-2000, 36 special classes serving 254 children with disabilities had been refurbished and equipped to a high standard in 16 elementary schools. A further seven schools joined the project in 2000-2001, bringing the total number of children to 386. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, there were reports of children with disabilities still not attending school.
The establishment of the special classes has been welcomed by the host schools which, in many cases, are operating in difficult circumstances caused by the aftermath of war and shortages of funding, classrooms and materials. The active involvement of MdM staff in supporting, equipping and refurbishing the classrooms has been a distinctive feature of the project that continues to be appreciated by the schools.
The special class teachers reported the support from the supervisors to be of significant value in helping them to develop the necessary skills for this work. Members of the evaluation team were impressed with the high quality of the relationships that have developed between adults and children. It was clear that many of the conditions for successful learning are in place and most teachers have well-developed classroom management skills.
Whole school approaches to inclusion
Evidence from the evaluation indicated that exchanges of ideas are taking place between mainstream and special class teaching staff in many schools. In schools where pedagogues work closely with the project, there was evidence of a whole school approach to teacher development and meeting the needs of all pupils. In some cases, children from special classes join their mainstream peers for certain activities, and mainstream pupils were reported in most schools to be using the special class facilities and sharing lessons with the special class pupils. However, the existence of different curriculum in special and mainstream provision is a barrier to the development of such links. Furthermore, the highly prescriptive curricula in both mainstream and special classes poses difficulties for teachers who try to adapt their teaching styles to meet the educational needs of all pupils.
In this project, special classes are being used as an entry route to mainstream schools for children who previously were denied such opportunity. Though the project schools vary in how well-integrated the special classes are within the mainstream school community, some supervisors have developed very close partnerships with mainstream colleagues (particularly pedagogues) and are developing innovative ways of working to promote inclusive practice and to prevent school failure. Such ways of working are at the cutting edge of practice in special education and should be encouraged.
The parents overwhelmingly support the project and they expressed high levels of satisfaction with the opportunities that have been provided for their children to attend mainstream schools and with the overall progress that the children were making especially in language development and social behaviour. The parent's main concern was whether the special classes would continue in the future as the project evolves.
Transport to and from school was identified by all of the parent groups as especially problematic. Many families do not have access to, or can afford, public transport. Others spend many hours escorting their children to and from school, waiting for their child until the end of the school day. Although transport is a problem for other parents, it is particularly acute here because of the greater distances that they may have to travel and the vulnerable nature of their children.
Parents have encountered many difficulties in forming associations. They feel that they need more support in forming associations as well as in finding suitable locations to meet.
Teachers and supervisors have been supported in their work with parents through training seminars that are reported as helpful. However, classroom observations and interviews with professionals suggested that they have little time to work directly with families. Moreover, the strategies they have for doing so tend to rely on an "expert model" of parent-professional partnership where the professional is the expert about the child and any exchange of information tends to be one way rather than reciprocal.
Staff development and training
The three UNICEF/Kennedy Foundation training seminars are an integral part of the project and have received widespread support from those who have participated in them. The sessions that acknowledged local traditions and built on pre-existing knowledge were especially valued.
Many participants stated that they would welcome the chance to continue to attend the seminars in future and to establish networks in which they could meet others who work on the project more regularly. The seminars and supervision have made a significant contribution to the development of teacher's skills and knowledge and there is a continued need for this work within the project. In addition, there is also a wider need to implement new approaches to teacher preparation, continuing professional development and award bearing courses, if the benefits of the project are to have a wider impact.
This evaluation found sufficient evidence to demonstrate that this is an important project that has made a successful start in addressing the needs of children with disabilities and their families from all national groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These achievements are likely to provide a sound basis for future developments as the project evolves into a new and sustainable phase, with more schools in other parts of the country becoming involved.
The project should continue to be supported so that it can evolve into a new, sustainable phase. A local NGO could be formed to support the development of the project. UNICEF, MdM and the Kennedy Foundation should support this process of transition. Schools coming to the end of their supervision should not be abandoned. Some support through the provision of materials should be maintained. There is a need to have a balance between local and foreign input to the seminars.
Parents need further support in establishing and maintaining their associations
Current identification and classification procedures need to be reviewed to make them more educationally relevant. Reform of the current inflexible curricula is required.
Staff development opportunities through seminars, workshops and networks should be maintained and extended. New professional development opportunities for teachers and supervisors leading to certification should be provided.
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