Children with disabilities as part of our lives

Why is it important to give everyone an equal chance?

Elena Ostapenko
27 February 2020

People with disabilities in Azerbaijan often remain isolated from society. Their entire life is limited to the available space at home and communication with family members.

However, limited health capacities do not imply a lack of ability and talent. As a rule, on the contrary - there are a lot of outstanding personalities among people with disabilities.

We can refer to many remarkable examples - the famous German composer L. Beethoven (1770 - 1827), who wrote music with lost hearing; Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder are famous American blind musicians of the 20th century; Eric Weickenmeier is the world's first blind mountaineer to conquer Everest in 2001. The 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), traveled in a wheelchair, but recorded his name into a world history. This list can be endless.

By hindering a chance for children with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities to gaining knowledge and communication skills on a par with everyone else, the country is missing a significant human potential. Deprived of education and social skills, these children will grow up as insecure adults, and remain forever dependent on family members.
Globally renown and well-proven inclusive education methodology is aimed at changing the approach to people with disabilities. It implies the maximum rejection of specialized schools and boarding schools, and the involvement of children with mild forms of disability into a teaching process of mainstream schools.

This new methodology has also gained attention in Azerbaijan. Over the past two years, different projects develop capacity of teachers to work in inclusive classes. The first stage of the process is about teacher training.

One of the projects is being implemented by UNICEF with funding from the European Union and support from the Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan. The project is called “Enhancing Quality Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities in Azerbaijan”.
As the head of the UNICEF education department, Leyla Hasanova says, within 2,5 years this very project trained 5,000 primary school teachers in secondary schools in 7 regions of Azerbaijan - Baku, Sumgait, Guba, Ganja, Sheki, Gazakh and Agjabadi. Until the projects ends in summer of 2020, the plan is to reach another 5,000 teachers.

As part of the trainings, teachers learn a concept and basic principles of inclusive education based on successful examples of different countries and get methodological recommendations.

UNICEF experts have also developed a training program for inclusive education in accordance with international standards, and this program has already been introduced in the curriculum of five pedagogical universities of the country - Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University (ADPU) and its two branches in Sheki and Guba from the 2019/2020 academic year, as well as at Ganja and Sumgait State Universities.

“Since 2021 the “Inclusive Education” will become a compulsory subject in all departments of these five universities. That means, any teacher who comes to work at school will already have primary training on this important topic. This is a major breakthrough, given that until today graduates of pedagogical universities did not have an understanding of inclusive education,” says Leyla Hasanova.
With the support of the Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan, a new program has also been introduced in the curriculum of the Teacher In-service Institute.

Children with disabilities as part of our lives
UNICEF Azerbaijan

ADPU Vice-Rector for Educational affairs, Doctor of Political Sciences Eldar Aslanov has the following view on the role of his university as one of the country's main universities to train teachers of secondary schools as creating conditions under which in the foreseeable future no child will be left behind from education, regardless of the situation.

“Our education system relies heavily on the Soviet system, which had a special approach to people with disabilities in education. Most likely children with disabilities still study in special schools. However, after spending 10 young years in an institution closed to the world, they are deprived of the opportunity to develop basic life skills necessary for self-realization in society, ”he said.
“Thus, as they grow, these people will always be in a special status, missing an opportunity to enjoy a self-reliant and financially independent life. They will remain a burden for their family and society,” he added.

Inclusive education, according to Eldar Aslanov, will give a child an opportunity to get education and experience in social development. Subsequently, they will be able to get a specialty and find a job based on their skills they offer, and disability will not impede the productivity in any way.

“We should strive to maximize the potential of every human being. For example, the movement of a person in a wheelchair should not be an obstacle to work with clients in a bank. Similarly, you can be a great musician, being blind. There are many ways of self-realization, we only need to give people a chance from their childhood,” the vice rector said.
The global practice shows that only 10% of the total number of children with disabilities has severe forms, which might make it impossible to study in a mainstream school. The remaining 90% of children with disabilities are able to study in the class with other children. Here we talk of children with some hearing, vision, speech, movement impairments, as well as thos with some types of mental disability and so on.

Find more on this topic:
Первый инклюзивный ремесленный класс в Баку: Как удалось разжечь интерес к жизни у детей с инвалидностью – ФОТО
Разрушая стереотипы: Как в Азербайджане учителей готовят к работе с детьми с инвалидностью – ФОТО – ВИДЕО

Over the past 5 years, one of the pilot projects of UNICEF, with the support of the Ministry of Education, has introduced the practice of inclusive education in four schools in Baku. These are schools No. 138, 202, 220 and 252. A key feature of the project was that it engaged children with mental disabilities, the most difficult form of disability for learning, into an education process.

According to Leyla Hasanova, the pilot project has shown excellent results: the overall performance of inclusive classes has not decreased, children demonstrate feelings of care and compassion, and parents are happy.
Each year, these schools continue to welcome additional 4 children with disabilities. To date, a total of about 60 children with disabilities are getting education in these pilot schools. 

Children with disabilities as part of our lives
UNICEF Azerbaijan

The vice-principal at school No. 155 in Baku, Vafa Mammadova, used to have only a general knowledge about inclusive education. After she joined a series of trainings from UNICEF in 2018 and 2019, she became a trainer, and today she works with teachers of secondary schools in Baku, including teachers of primary schools.

“When we delved into the topic of inclusive education, we realized the importance of this methodology for the development of our society. Now I know how to develop the right working strategy for children with disabilities, how to organize an inclusive process in the classroom. I am happy to share this knowledge with my fellow colleagues,” she said.

 “We are trying to share with teachers an idea that the key obstacle to the socialization of people with disabilities is not the disability itself, but the negative perception of this group of people by the society. At the trainings we discuss how this negative attitude can be changed,” the vice-principal added.

According to world practice, 2-3 children with disabilities can study in a class with 20-25 children, subject to a balance: all three should have the same form of disability.

According to Vafa Mammadova, the first perception of the inclusive education by teachers is that they attach this process extremely a “special status”: they say that children with disabilities need “special” teachers, a “special” program, a “special” approach, etc.

“We are trying to illustrate on various world examples that everything is not so scary. The main thing is just to love children. That is it. All depending on their characteristics,” Vafa Mammadova says. “We are trying to instill confidence in teachers that by joint efforts we can help the children of our country not to be isolated.”

Children with disabilities as part of our lives
UNICEF Azerbaijan

Registration of disability is not compulsory in Azerbaijan. Therefore, there are no exact figures on how many children with special needs are live in the country. 73 thousand children with disabilities are officially registered, which on average is 2% of the total child population of the country, under the age of 18.

World experience shows that the average share of children with disabilities in each country is around 5% of the total number of children. This gives reason to believe that the real number of children with disabilities in Azerbaijan might be greater.

According to the Ministry of Education, of officially registered children with disabilities, 37% receive education in specialized and boarding schools. According to UNICEF, there are number is only 17%. The remaining children are completely put off from the school education process.

UNICEF suggests that teacher training is just the first step towards introducing inclusive education in the country. The next step should be the further training of principals, psychologists and other specialists related to school education.

An integral part of this process should also be the work with parents - both with parents of children with and without disabilities, so that adults, due to deep-rooted stereotypes, do not interfere with the convergence and joint development of children, even if they are so different.

Find more on this topic:
«Разные, но равные»: вдохновляющие истории успеха людей с инвалидностью в Азербайджане – ВИДЕО
Азербайджан внедряет современную методику раннего предупреждения детской инвалидности