2009 Armenia: Evaluation of Inclusive Education Policies and Programmes in Armenia
Author: Paula Frederica Hunt
Evaluation of Inclusive Education Policies and Programmes in Armenia
This Evaluation was conducted according to a qualitative methodology which included 22 semi-structured interviews and 14 site visits, and presents the findings according to four categories of data pertaining to Policy, Education Administration Practices, Inclusive Programmes and Special Schools, and Support Programmes. The data was analyzed taking into account the Local, Regional, and National contexts and the recommendations offered reflect not only national concerns but also global trends.
In 2005 the Government of Armenia adopted the concept of Inclusive Education. In June of 2005 the Law on Education of Persons with Special Education Needs was passed and Inclusive Education is included in the draft Education Development National Programme for 2008-2015. However, the transition from the dual system inherited from the Soviet educational system is not fully implemented, and children with disabilities are most often educated in segregated environments such as special schools. Great progress has been accomplished in the brief 9 years since the implementation of the first efforts. However, the close monitoring of the initiatives has highlighted weaknesses in the current educational provisions.
The combination of the documents currently in existence effectively reduces their effectiveness and results in contradictory directions and practices in the field. Although the concepts of Inclusive Education, Education for All, Special Needs Education, and its implied need for the categorization of children according to a medical model, are not inappropriate concepts and practices as such, but they are irreconcilable in that the first two emphasize a change in environment to accommodate ALL children, and the last two imply an identification of children according to intrinsic factors and the need for specialized services that make their inclusion in the educational system if not impossible, at least very difficult to attain.
In 2002, a UNICEF preliminary evaluation of programmes and policies alerted for the development of “integrated models” of education and, while considering these a successful move away from segregated education, cautioned that the concept of Inclusive Education was being used in its most restricted sense, that of providing services only to children identified as having a disability. Since then, UNICEF has helped develop policy and practice in several other areas such as: the closure of several special schools and the integration of children into general education; the conversion of the closed special schools into Child Care Centers schools; the development of Community Centers that support parents and local authorities involved in education; the institution of several Inclusive Schools throughout the Republic of Armenia.
At the Ministry of Education and Science level, policy impact is observed in the organizational design of the Department of Education and adjacent departments and, at present, there are three (3) types of schools: Special Schools, General Education schools, and General Education Schools that provide Inclusive Education services. The general attitude of individual policy makers, teachers, parents, and peers of children with disabilities has dramatically improved over the course of the last 10 years and, while the practical aspects of the required work may not be clear, most of the interviewed stakeholders demonstrated not only knowledge of Inclusive Education but also willingness to providing the necessary conditions for a more equitable educational system. However, the efforts to decentralize decision-making and policy implementation have weakened the links between policy makers and practitioners and diluted the knowledge-base required for systemic reform. In addition, knowledge of each stake-holders role and responsibility has not been clearly imparted and many stake-holders (parents, teachers, and children) are unsure of their role and, in many cases, unaware of systemic reform efforts and their societal implications. The greatest accomplishments with regards to children have been observed in the area of Special Education, with the decrease in Boarding and Special Schools in the last 5 years. Unfortunately, children, as the most important stake-holders in the reform process, seem to have only a marginal role. Through the efforts of UNICEF, all schools are mandated to have a Student Council which can part-take in the decision making process of each school. However, during this evaluation, it was impossible to determine the specific role and impact of the Student Councils.
Inclusive Schools - the strengths of the Inclusive Schools visited are centered on the work already accomplished with regards to attitudinal changes and philosophical shifts, as well as the availability of Special Education services to students with disabilities. However, there are two issues that demand immediate attention. First, Inclusive Schools have limited provision of “inclusive” practices. Second, although the philosophical stance of the school is one of “Special Education Needs” the only children that receive additional services are those that have been identified as having a disability. The challenges are three-fold. First, there is the need to provide the infrastructure, materials and AT conducive to teaching/learning support that provide a nurturing and safe environment for ALL children. Second, the lack of teacher preparations for Inclusive Education is an equally pressing issue and one that will require targeting both preservice and professional development concurrently. Lastly, there is the need to bridge the gaps between areas of expertise by creating collaborative exchanges between special teams and “syllabus” teachers.
Special Schools - have developed and maintained the greatest expertise with regards to children with disabilities. The specialized staff of Special Schools is willing and able to share their skills and knowledge with other education professionals and has a central role in future education reforms and in ensuring the distribution of expertise through all educational settings. The weakness of Special Schools is clearly evident in the composition of their school populations. Special Schools serve a variety of students that could be best served in mainstream and inclusive settings. The greatest portion of the students observed in Special Schools either had very mild or no disabilities that warranted their stay at a Special School, which could be taken as a violation of their Rights according to Articles 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 12, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 39 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The greatest challenge facing Special Schools is the transformation of some Special Schools into Resource Centers which requires that specialized staff be willing and able to, not only provide services, but also train other staff and participate in inter-disciplinary collaborations.
Support Programmes - From among all the support services the greatest strength comes from the potential of the Community Centers to develop and implement change and reform efforts alongside Inclusive Schools. The Community Centers not only understand the need for a continuum of services, but are also extremely knowledgeable about the communities they serve. The greatest weakness of the support services is their lack of collaboration and common vision. Because services are not closely monitored and provided in collaboration, there are lapses in provisions, and also some overlap, which results in the inappropriate use of resources. As is the case with special schools, the greatest challenge faced by support services is the required need for collaboration and sharing of expertise, which involves a transformation of the professional role of many of the stake-holders, as well as the need for inter-disciplinary collaborations.
The existing Inclusive Education programmes are highly relevant. However, because special schools continue to be maintained and endorsed by a large portion of the governing bodies and because Inclusive Education has been introduced as alternative to special and mainstream educations, relevance of these programmes is often compromised. Even in the cases where Inclusive Schools are available, they are not accessible to all students, either because of lack of adequate infra-structure, lack of resources, or lack of adequate services. While the language of the Law of Education is broad enough to allow for Inclusive Practices to flourish, other pieces of legislation counter this possibility.
UNICEF has a central role in promoting Inclusive Education in Armenia, particularly with regards to the 2010-2015 Country Programme. Inclusive Education is not only the driving force behind Education For All, but is also the mechanism identified to implement Millennium Development Goal 2 – Universal Primary Education. In the 2010-2015 Country Programme Draft UNICEF clearly outlines the needs in the areas of rights of women and children, child nutrition, HIV awareness, inequalities in pre-school, upper secondary and quality of education, meeting the obligations of the CRC, and institutionalization. Inclusive Education cuts across all these issues and can provide forums, mechanisms, and collaborative opportunities to address all these issues nationally. Because of its recognition at all levels of governance, visibility among susceptible populations, and international expertise, UNICEF is in a privileged position to lead Inclusive Education efforts with a clear and concise direction, and support the government of Armenia in attaining the MDG by 2015. The main challenge to the future success of Educational Reforms in Armenia is the need for a clear vision, agreed upon all stakeholders, and the capacity to maintain reforms on track, even in the event of political dissent. Because of its objective and non-partisan standing, UNICEF can assume this leadership role and guide not only governance but all the involved stakeholders in creating an Inclusive Education System.
The Inclusive Education programmes have been very effective in promoting social inclusion and
demystifying stereotypes associated with disability. However, with regards to High Quality Education, the schools fall short in its practical implementations due to a variety of constraints, many of which outside of the schools control. With regards to the School Environment, the difficulties are extreme in all sites observed. Infrastructures are poor, buildings are in disrepair, and renovations have not been sufficient to adequately address needs. All schools function with partial or total lack of water, sanitation, electricity, heating, or a combination, and leaky roofs, moldy walls, and single pane windows were observed in all visited sites. While the specialists in each building are ready to provide services to children with disabilities in inclusive settings, the “syllabus” teachers responsible for educating the children are not. The end result is four-fold: 1) Children with disabilities are seen as Special Education children first, and the full responsibility of the Special Education Team; 2) Children with disabilities are seen as requiring “additional” work, effort, and time, as opposed to differentiated instruction; 3) Children with disabilities that attend “Inclusive Classrooms” do not fully participate in the lessons and are expected to do only partial or modified work that is neither appropriate nor challenging; 4) There is no sense of shared responsibility, distributed expertise, team-work among ALL school staffs.
The Inclusive Education programmes in existence have been highly efficient in introducing the philosophy and goals of EFA, promoting the need for de-institutionalization, introducing the processes and the mechanisms needed for systemic change. From a policy and legislative standpoint, education governance is already set up in a way that is conducive to expanding reform efforts. However, it is necessary to define parameters around de-centralization efforts, in order to prevent chaos and a breakdown in the channeling of funds and the adequate financing of services. De-centralization is not equivalent to lack of oversight, and monitoring mechanisms are essential to ensuring service provision. The most cost-effective way of introducing and implementing inclusive education into 200 mainstream schools in 2010 would be by combining all the efforts of the government, the great variety of non-governmental agencies, and all international donors into one large effort, not a “project”. It is essential to conduct a nationwide, non-partisan needs-assessment initiative in order to ensure that the 200 new schools address the needs of all the marzes, address the needs of a variety of segments of the population, and ensure that the best positioned mainstream schools are targeted for reform.
The Inclusive Education programmes have created an environment that is welcoming to deinstitutionalization, good examples and model schools upon which to base the structure required for systemic reform of basic education, and has demonstrated a greater political will and commitment for systemic reform. However, because there is no clear vision and guidance from the government, and because there are a great number of non-governmental agencies and international donors involved in separate projects that do not have one main target, basic education reform efforts are inconsistent and temporary. Issues of sustainability of Inclusive Education reforms should be addressed by representatives of not only the Ministry of Education and Science but also with representatives of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministry of Health, international donors and non-governmental agencies. Because the issues surrounding Inclusive Education cut across a variety of governmental agencies, funding for Inclusive Education should be determined by a variety of stakeholders
Suspend all reform efforts (opening on new Inclusive Education schools, and closing of
Special Schools) until an autonomous working group has been established;
Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all stake-holders;
Develop a collaborative structure of communication and implementation of services that
includes all stake-holders;
Reflect upon the most recent accomplishments and develop a clear vision for the future of the
educational system in the Republic of Armenia;
Clearly define Inclusive Education has the main mechanism towards attainment of Education
for All, the Millennium Development Goals, and European Integration;
Clearly define the mechanisms needed to uphold the Convention of the Rights of the Child,
and involve children at all levels of decision-making.
Re-formulate all educational policies into a cohesive and single set of guidelines that has
Inclusive Education (as defined by the Salamanca Declaration) as its main overarching
Ensure the enforcement of the principles of the Law of Education by ensuring “a wellplanned learning process for all learners” (p.6) and High Quality Education at all levels of
Promote the use of the terms “Inclusive Education” and “Special Needs Education” as
intended in the Salamanca Declaration and further promulgated by the 2008 UNESCO
Education Summit, and extend services beyond the school walls.
Define the model of service provisions more appropriate for the Republic of Armenia;
Determine the need and adequacy of a categorizing system that is based on a medical model;
Provide parent education opportunities;
Develop funding mechanisms that allow for the development of policies that envision the
Ensure that the funding mechanisms chosen do not promote the excessive identification of
children with Special Educational Needs;
Ensure that each existing school/community/marz is utilizing the best prepared personnel for
each task, and create mechanisms for addressing over-staffing (i.e. early retirement; retraining; role transformation; re-assignments, etc.);
Implement school-wide needs-assessment strategies to access the strengths and weaknesses
of each school building (inside and out), and prioritize infra-structural needs, address the
most immediate needs, and involve children and communities in the renovation efforts;
In collaboration with UNICEF continue to promote de-institutionalization;
In collaboration with UNICEF, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and Ministry of
Health, develop parent mechanisms to enhance de-institutionalization;
In collaboration with UNICEF develop external mechanisms to target child protection
Identify 6 schools in the country, one for each medical disability, that can best service
students with severe disabilities and concentrate all efforts in providing them with the infrastructure, specialized personnel and assistive technology to provide not only exceptional care
but also high quality education
Transfer all severely impaired students from all other schools to those identified above, as
well as existing expertise within special schools and transfer them to potential IE schools.
Develop a group within each of the 6 schools that can work towards providing training and
specialized materials to be distributed to all schools thus transforming the existing special
schools into resource centers.
Suspend the opening of IE schools in marzes were some already exist, and expand the
identification of potential IE schools to ALL other marzes.
Provide funding, infrastructure and training opportunities to each school that target High
Quality Education for ALL students
Develop strategies to search for, identify, and provide protection and education to ALL
children in the surrounding communities.
Provide opportunities for exchange of knowledge and expertise
Introduce and promote the use of school self-assessment mechanisms in ALL schools
Conduct in-depth needs assessment in each marz and targeted community in order to better
determine the placement of each new IE school
Every year, for the next 5 years, identify 20% of the school population that can best be
served in Inclusive Schools and initiate transition of the above 20% onto
Inclusive/Mainstream schools with the support of a team from the special school;
Identify and support the transition of expert staff from special schools onto Inclusive
Develop impartial and independent monitoring teams in each Marz/community responsible
for ensuring the proper provision of services (composed of representatives from the
municipalities, schools, and CPUs) along a continuum, including the development and
follow-through of Individualized Educational Plans.
Ensure transitional mechanisms among all levels of education and life after post-secondary
education and consider existing Vocational Education plans and enhance their access to ALL
Consider alternative completion and existing processes that will allow ALL students to
become active citizens and participants of a democratic society.
Provide adequate technological support and training to enhance assessment, provision of
services and teaching/learning.
Provide Pedagogical Institutes with the ability to develop search for and secure expertise in
Inclusive Education in order to become a resource for other nations in the region, and
encourage the sharing of expertise and inter-disciplinary collaborations.
Prepare ALL teachers to work with ALL students, both independently and in collaboration,
and target the dissemination of skills and knowledge related to: curricular
modifications/adaptations, differentiated instruction, classroom management, learning styles,
individualized interventions, co-teaching, peer-tutoring, and grouping instruction, which
target ALL students.
Clearly define roles and responsibilities of ALL school staffs and ensure that clear
collaboration/networking mechanisms are made available and address the existing power
relationships and devise strategies to equalize roles among ALL stakeholders.
Consolidate the existing data gathering mechanisms into a centralized system that allows all
stakeholders adequate data management tools to better plan for and provide services.
Full report in PDF
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