COVID-19 and Inclusive Education
How the pandemic influenced children with special educational needs.
Tens of thousands of Moldovan students have had to accommodate to online education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was not an easy task for the students nor for the teachers. However, it was even more difficult for children with special educational needs, as they require much more attention and pedagogical involvement through special methods.
The Special School no.12 is also part of this last category. Currently, this school is the only remaining specialized educational institution in the country for children with hearing impairments. All the other schools were transformed, and children went to schools in community to learn together with their peers, in regular classes.
“All other similar schools in the country were closed as a result of the implementation of the goals of the Inclusive Education Development Program to promote inclusive education as an educational priority in order to prevent the exclusion and / or marginalization of children, youth and adults, as well as to reorganize general / special education, optimize the network of inclusive education institutions. Children with special educational needs are admitted to general education schools, where they study according to individual curricula, and they are provided with psychological and pedagogical assistance”, said Virginia Rusnac, director of the Republican Center of Psychopedagogical Assistance. In Moldova a National programme for inclusive education was adopted and is being gradually implemented since 2011.
“Inclusive education allows students of all backgrounds to learn and grow side by side, developing necessary skills and competencies. UNICEF supports the government in taking children with disabilities from special institutions and integrating them into their families, communities, and schools” said Liudmila Lefter, Education Specialist at UNICEF Moldova.
COVID-19 has significantly influenced the Educational system in Moldova in general and the promotion of inclusive education in particular. For children with special educational needs it was extremely challenging to adapt to distance learning.
Gabriela Ichim, a ninth-grade student, feels more confident when she studies in the classroom rather than online. During the quarantine, she missed her classmates and teachers, especially her speech therapy classes. For Gabriela and other children like her, it is especially important to read the teachers' message from their lips, thus the distance learning was a challenging experience for the students with special educational needs.
„When teaching regular school subjects, teachers apply not only specific methods, but also adapt the curricular for the specific needs of the children. Some children, in addition to hearing impairment also have other disabilities, and the teacher has to modify, to adapt the texts and tasks individually, for each student ", said Nina Rusu, speech therapist and Head of the School no. 12.
During the lessons, an audio system amplifies the sound, depending on the individual need of the child. Each student has a device to connect to the hearing aid that helps better hear and understand the teacher's message.
"The family was the biggest support during the times when we had to transfer all the classes online. Students could not perform the tasks on their own, especially primary school children, so it was a great joint work of all: teachers, students, and parents. Today we are glad that we returned to school ", said Nina Rusu.
During the quarantine period, Eudochia Brașoveanu, specialist in psychopedagogy and speech therapist, developed explanatory videos for children and parents with concrete tasks to support them during the online classes. Parents worked on these tasks with their children and sent the videos of their work for teachers’ assessment.
"Our students communicate more with gestures,. In speech therapy classes we focus on verbal communication. Online classes are complicated, because it is exceedingly difficult for students to read labially [Editor’s note: articulate sound with the help of the lips] - and it is better when we study in the classroom”, shared Eudochia Brașoveanu.
Radion Tambur, a ninth-grade student with hearing impairment is incredibly happy to be back in the classroom. "I feel better at school. I communicate with teachers and friends. When I was at home I listened to the teachers and it was interesting, but it was extremely hard to do it alone", said Radion.
"In the pandemic we lacked physical presence in the classroom, because one of the main aspects of formation of the verbal communication is to have a direct contact with the child, to feel the vibration of the voice, rhythm, tempo, to benefit from all the specters of senses", said Head of the School
Now, when students are back to school, teachers emphasize the importance of following the hygiene rules and taking measures to limit the spread of the virus as this is the only way students can remain in the classroom and study together.
UNICEF Moldova with the support of USAID funds supports educational system in the Republic of Moldova in various ways. As part of the support, UNICEF procured and delivered soap and sanitizers to each school and pre-school in the country, aiming to cover their needs over the first three months after school re-opening. Over 68,000 litres of liquid soap, 454,000 pieces of solid soap and over 136,000 litres of liquid hand sanitizer were delivered to more than 2,600 schools and preschools in the Republic of Moldova, providing 480 thousand students with the means to respect the hygiene measures.
To ease the process of school reopening UNICEF supported the development of Students’ and Parents’ Guides, which explained in a simple and straightforward way the process of re-opening of schools in Moldova, rules, and hygiene measures, as well as advice for supporting learning and mental health.
UNICEF, in partnership with national NGOs and in coordination with Ministry of Education, Culture and Research, has been developing the training materials for teachers and managers in the context of preschools and schools reopening. These materials are used in large-scale capacity building of administrators and teaching staff from all schools and preschools on hygiene practices, the application of protocols for COVID-19 and infectious diseases prevention and control (IPC). The training will cover 34,000 staff in preschool, primary and secondary education settings.