Learning Better Together with Cholponai
Cholponai´s work helps to create a more inclusive school in her village, thanks to Learning Better Together, a partnership between UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Science of Kyrgyzstan and USAID
The first time Cholponai kyzy Talantbek met the Governor of the Talas region to provide information about the Learning Better Together Project, she faced difficulties to reach the third floor of the building where the Governor’s office is situated, due to the lack of an elevator. She made it clear to the Governor that this was a major challenge for people living with disabilities. The Governor promised to install an elevator in the building, and after the proactive approach from Cholponai, the elevator was installed and ready for use just 3 months after her visit.
Having a disability, Cholponai is well aware of the difficulties that people with disabilities face in their daily lives. She has brought her understanding of these challenges and her drive to improve the lives of all persons with disabilities to her work in the Torkobubu Kuschubaeva School, in Kok-Sai, in the northwest of Kyrgyzstan, as the project mentor of the Learning Better Together Project, a partnership between USAID, the Ministry of Education and Science of Kyrgyzstan and UNICEF.
The project focuses on inclusive and quality education, through the identification and enrollment of children with special education needs in 10 pilot schools and 10 pilot pre-schools in the same communities. Through this programme, children with disabilities and special education needs are supported to smoothly transition from pre-school to primary school and are better prepared for the first years of formal learning in a mainstream school environment.
When the Learning Better Together Project was introduced in the Torkobubu Kuschubaeva School back in August 2019, teachers were not fully convinced of such an inclusive approach. However, as part of the project, 14 teachers received training on how to work with children with disabilities and special education needs and help identify their specific learning needs in reading, mathematics and writing. Previously, 19 children had been identified with a disability, and after the implementation of assessments, training and mentoring, a further 47 children were identified with special learning needs, and a more tailored approach to their learning needs were developed with individual learning plans developed for each child.
Within the project, there was also a small grant allocated to participating pilot schools. The Director the School, Zhanyl Umarova, discussed it with her team, and decided to have a participatory approach to decide how to optimally use these funds. After consultations with parents and children, they decided to create a dance room for children and to purchase simulators such as a treadmill and an exercise cycle, among others, for children with disabilities to strengthen their physical health. Everyone in the school is very excited, because they now have a dance teacher and are ready to start the dance classes with children as soon as children return to school for the second term.
This excitement is spread by Zhanyl and Cholponai to the rest of the team working on inclusive education at the school. Thanks to their participatory approach to learning and acquiring new skills, they have already decided to provide training and seminars to other five schools in the Talas region and share the skills and knowledge they acquired thanks to the Learning Better Together Project.
Cholponai summarizes her motivation to why everyone should focus on inclusion for children with disabilities: “In accordance to national statistics, out of 6 million people in Kyrgyzstan, more than 670,000 have a disability, and 18% of them are children. What if the statistics were the opposite, and those 670,000 were the only ones without a disability? What approach would government then have to take?”. By bringing people together to understand the benefits of a more inclusive society, Cholponai is living the values of the Learning Better Together Project and creating a whole new world of possibilities for children with disabilities and special education needs.