The Best Classrooms are Inclusive Classrooms

Joint UNICEF and Ministry of Education venture seeks to create schools and classrooms equipped to help all children achieve their fullest potential.

Sina Jones
Teacher in her classroom with a child writing.
UNICEF Azerbaijan
20 June 2019

Around the world, children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized and excluded groups.  Facing daily discrimination in the form of negative attitudes, lack of adequate policies and legislation, they are effectively barred from realizing their rights to healthcare, education, and even survival. In Azerbaijan there are about 72,000 children under 18 years of age officially identified with a disability. It is believed many more remain unidentified due to limited healthcare access and challenges obtaining proper documentation.

As the world’s leader in supporting children with disabilities, UNICEF has worked to improve community attitudes since establishing a presence in Azerbaijan nearly 25 years ago. At the university level, Azerbaijan has achieved more than many other nations, with disabled students comprising approximately 4% of the student body. However, Orxhan Abbasov, Leading Specialist at the Ministry of Education, believes Azerbaijan is capable of achieving even more.

“It is my firm belief that accepting unconditionally all children into regular classes and the life of the school will ensure the integration of all children into society and break the stereotypes about [children with disabilities] studying.”

To support these education goals, the European Union funded a 24-month teacher training program delivered by UNICEF and the Azerbaijan Ministry of Education. This program promotes classroom inclusivity through modernizing and improving teaching practices that benefit all students.  “Inclusive education is not just about children with disabilities, it is about quality education for all children--” said UNICEF Education Specialist, Leyla Husanova, “where every child, no matter what abilities or health conditions he has, can learn to the best of his capacity.”

International Education Consultant Professor Peter Grimes, and his team of specialists found that Azerbaijani teachers received almost no inclusivity training. “Teachers need to be supported to imagine what an inclusive classroom looks like and given help to make the changes needed to create one. All children have the right to be educated in the same classrooms and schools,” noted Professor Grimes. “Children with disabilities make very good progress in general education classrooms where teachers are using learner centred teaching approaches.”

The first phase of training began in February, gathering 34 master trainers from universities in Baku, Sheki, Ganja, Sumqayit, and Guba. Mr. Grimes and his team provided in-depth training sessions, modeling the type of inclusive learning environment they want the master trainers to teach. These sessions provide the context for trainers to see what approaches work in the classroom setting. “What we did here is very simple,” said Education Consultant Tricia Mercado, “We gave the teachers the confidence that they can do it.  They have all the tools they need.”

At the core, this project is about capacity building. These 34 master trainers will take the skills learned in the training sessions and teach 300 professors from five universities. These professors will then have the tools to provide inclusivity training to the 1,300 students currently studying to be Azerbaijan’s next generation of teachers.

To multiply the impact of this classroom model even further, in-service training for 54 teachers took place in February and May 2019. This small cadre of teachers are identified from across seven regions: Baku, Sunqayit, Guba, Sheki, Ganja, Gazakh, and Aghjabadi, and will train approximately 10,000 additional primary teachers in these new classroom practices and mindsets.

Additional opportunities for professional development and continuing education will be provided through nine resources centers located in each of the seven regions, with two in Baku and Ganja.  These centers will make access to resources more accessible and provide increased opportunities for continuing education, professional development, and parent awareness.

“Our mission is to design schools and classes in ways that help children learn and achieve their fullest potential and to provide equal opportunities for all children. At the same time, this partnership with UNICEF will enhance teachers’ professional development and facilitate their responsibilities. From this standpoint, our collaboration with UNICEF will be very beneficial for teachers, classrooms and society,” said Mr. Abbasov.