A step forward towards substantive inclusivity in the field of education
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education to revise the special education toolkit and procedure for the development of individual learning plans for preschool and school-age children.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left an enduring impact on the planning and delivery of education in Armenia. Starting from March 2020, as the country embarked on distance learning, students, caregivers and teachers alike noticed the scale of challenges at hand. This was especially the case for students with disabilities. At the very least, many did not have access to the Internet or necessary technologies, including assistive devices at home, while teachers faced the need for new teaching methodologies to keep students engaged and to ensure that they understand the lesson along with 30 other students within 45 minutes. Parents faced the necessity of added support and supervision during the online lessons and afterwards with homework.
In the same year, UNICEF partnered with the Republican Psychological-Pedagogical Center to examine the lessons learned and try to change these experiences for better support to all sides engaged in the process of general education through its network of regional hubs and specialists. In December, together with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and the Republican Center organized a workshop to mark a number of important milestones reached in the process with the support of the Russian Federation, as well as the National Committee for UNICEF in Switzerland and Lichtenstein.
“After the onset of the pandemic, we were faced with a wide range of issues, from education, mental health, the cost of necessary medication to the search for affordable and available assistive technologies appropriate for distance learning. There comes a time when as a parent you become so exhausted and do not know where or whom to turn to. My child attends a special school, so I organized a meeting with other parents to provide them with a platform to voice their issues and work together to find solutions,”
“From the first days of the pandemic, it was obvious that children with special educational needs were left out of online education platforms. In the first phase of the programme, we identified all the issues and challenges that students with disabilities and their caregivers faced. Based on the results, we developed two guidelines with the support of the National Committee for UNICEF in Switzerland and Lichtenstein and provided them to public schools throughout the country. The guidelines included tips for teachers and tips for parents on how to safeguard and promote inclusion in distance learning,”
Together with the Republican Psychological-Pedagogical Center, UNICEF also developed 15 new assessment tools, which will allow the Center to carry out an in-depth and accurate assessment of the needs of children with disabilities. In addition, the assessment was made mandatory. Before the pandemic, the Center would assess children’s educational needs based on parents’ request only and hence presented a partial picture of the needs within communities to specialists.
During the assessment of educational needs, specialists examine and define the development-specific issues, characteristics of each child and what capacities he or she has. It is based on this assessment that individual learning plans are later developed, so an accurate assessment goes a long way to allow for more realistic and individualized learning plans, which in turn enables children to get necessary support and excel. The procedure for the development and content of individual learning plans was also revised with the support of international experts to improve quality and ensure better support to students with special educational needs.
“We could not have implemented this programme without the support of UNICEF. Within one year, together we have accomplished the work of several years. I am sure that the results of the multidisciplinary work have improved the scope and quality of activities of the local pedagogical-psychological support centers,”
“Teachers who come across complicated documents do not know what to do, and they refuse to deal with paperwork or procedures that do not help them in practice. The revised tools, guides and procedures are more user-friendly and we hope that it will motivate teachers to put them to use and improve cooperation between the Center and public schools, contributing to inclusion of children in schools.”
In 2021, UNICEF also ensured training of 400 special educational specialists. One of the goals of the regional pedagogical and psychological centers is to assist teachers in public schools in assessing children’s learning needs, developing individual learning plans, and to provide specific services based on the learning plans. With the pandemic, one of the key questions that the Center had to find an answer to with teachers was how to organize distance learning classes for students with disabilities and keep them engaged in the educational process.
To find answers to this and other questions, over 400 specialists from all regional pedagogical-psychological centers throughout Armenia were trained in efficient provision of pedagogical-psychological support services online. The courses were conducted in an interactive way with the active participation of specialists, equipping them with new skills to work with parents and children.
As a follow up to training, specialists conducted a one-day online training for about 400 parents, providing assistance in organizing their children’s education in lockdown conditions during to pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges in all areas of our lives, including education. It has proven once again that we need to make urgent investments to improve distance learning so that every student, especially the most vulnerable, has access to quality education. Together with the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports and other partners, UNICEF will continue its work to further improve pedagogical-psychological support services so that learning is not disrupted for students with disabilities and that they are provided with a needs-based response during and after crises.”
In the next five years, as part of the new country programme of UNICEF in Armenia, UNICEF will continue its work with the Government and other partners so that every child in Armenia has access to quality education to develop his or her full potential.