Through a mother's eye
Teacher assistants are irreplaceable in offering opportunities for children with disabilities to develop different skills – social and educational – and achieve their full potential.
“13 years ago, I was in a hospital room, and two hours after I have given birth, I have yet not seen my baby. So, a mother starts to wonder… starts to notice that something is off. These are the first thoughts I remember and to this day, I would like to hold tight that mother and tell her that everything is going to be all right. Everything will work out and I will have by my side my best friend, my precious daughter, my reason to fight hard every day, my Anduena.”
Anduena will turn 14 years old next month. As a child with Down syndrome her mother has tried her best to overcome the possible barriers to her daughter’s education, and ensure she can live a normal life. But that has not always been easy. “I remember the first time the doctor gave me the news. I was confused and did not have the slightest information on what her life will turn out to be,” recalls Anduena’s mother.
“What you learn along the way is that there are people who lend you a helping hand, who support you, who in an indirect way tell you that you are not alone” says Anduena’s mother. “This word of mouth is that is how I found out about teacher assistants”. This support has calmed her fears, and showed her the way for Anduena to have a fair chance in school and not feel excluded.
The exact number of children with disabilities in Kosovo is unknown, but their situation remains very concerning. Children with disabilities suffer from a lack of early identification and support by the health and education systems, as well as widespread exclusion from school: while 8% of children have a functional difficulty in at least one domain, only 3,965 children with disabilities are attending primary education in the formal education system currently.
Supporting children with disabilities across the life cycle is a key focus of UNICEF’s work in Kosovo. Identifying children who need extra support and providing early intervention, ideally as soon as possible after birth, is key to their future success.
UNICEF and the European Union are collaborating to enhance the inclusion of children with disabilities in Kosovo through development of the legal framework, provision of improved Community Based Rehabilitation services for 1,500 children, establishment of data collection standards for children with disabilities, and raising public awareness to fight stigma and discrimination against children with disabilities.
Additionally, the program, with generous support of the European Union has successfully promoted inclusive learning by increasing schools' capacity to cater to children with disabilities. To support this, 25 teacher assistants were hired to support children in school. Recognizing the significance of this initiative, the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation (MESTI) has decided to employ 500 teacher assistants until the end of 2025, marking a significant breakthrough in the education of children with disabilities in Kosovo. This collaborative program is creating a more inclusive society by transforming the landscape of education for children with disabilities.
Anduena’s story shows how initiatives that support inclusion for children with disabilities, including teacher assistants, not only ease the financial burden on families, but they help emotionally. “I feel (the teachers assistants) become like second parents and biggest supporters to children. They teach them what we sometimes as parents cannot.”
Children with disabilities face many barriers in the education system which are the result of discrimination and social exclusion a dearth of appropriate infrastructure and trained personnel, and insufficient individualized services and inclusive approaches to learning. For a child to be fully integrated in schools a teacher assistant can make all the difference, helping to monitor and support the child’s development and make it possible to to attend local schools, make friends, and grow up to be active member of their own communities.
Therefore, UNICEF is committed in working for creating an inclusive education, providing support for teacher assistants for children with disabilities in elementary schools across Kosovo, like Anduena’s teacher assistant – Elmaz Ukshini.
“Last week, Elmazi told me that Anduena is getting really good with numbers and that he also started working with Anduena and she will soon be able to write on a computer. My heart lit up. Little by little, my Anduena will achieve it all. My effort will pay off, Elmazi’s effort will pay off. Her teacher assistant is helping Anduena become independent”.
There is a long way in changing inclusive systems, but work is being done so that in few years there will be more stories of children like Anduena, who despite obstacles, are given a fair chance to enjoy their rights.