Future teachers to support learning of students with disabilities during the pandemic
This joint appeal came from a meeting that UNICEF organized with local organizations.
PODGORICA, 20 SEPTEMBER 2020 – UNICEF, the Association of Youth with Disabilities, the Special Olympics, the Union of the Associations of Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities 'Naša inicijativa', the Montenegro National Association of Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities ‘Nardos’ and local associations of parents of children with disabilities are calling for current university students, who are being educated in the teaching profession, and especially ones on Master’s studies, to be engaged to support students with disabilities to study indoors, outdoors and online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This joint appeal came from a meeting that UNICEF organized with all these organizations last week, which focused on the situation of children with disabilities.
All the meeting participants assessed the Ministry of Education’s efforts to support children with disabilities during the previous semester as quite positive. At the same time, they pointed to additional action that needs to be taken in the coming period to enable access to quality education for children with disabilities.
“Nobody is closer to children with disabilities and knows better the challenges they face and potential solutions to them than these children and their families. Involving them in the planning, developing, monitoring and evaluation of services for them at both the local and national level is the best way for a country to make sure that their rights are being realized. UNICEF will continue providing support for this process in Montenegro".
Representatives of children with disabilities and their families recognize that all parents are struggling to provide support for their children’s education during the pandemic and that this is an even greater challenge for the families of children with disabilities.
A significant increase in the teachers’ workload during the pandemic makes it impossible for them to always provide additional individual support for every child with disabilities and for teaching assistants to provide technical support during classes.
Therefore, they are calling upon every school to make an assessment regarding how many additional people, i.e. students/future teachers, are needed for regular home visits to children with disabilities, as well as online sessions, along with any necessary technical support from teaching assistants, in line with the instructions from health experts and teachers.
A joint appeal is being sent to universities, the Ministry of Education, schools and local authorities to enable the voluntary engagement of those studying to be teachers, who will learn a lot through this sort of practical work and will contribute to better, inclusive education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physiotherapist, psychologists and other kinds of experts are also needed to work with these children regularly, as parents cannot replace them during the pandemic. The lack of these experts’ support, even for short periods, can lead to a serious worsening of the lives of children with disabilities.
“Day-care centres, centres for social welfare, health centres, local authorities, preschools and schools need to work together in every municipality to ensure that every child with disabilities receives appropriate support during the pandemic. We are calling for intensive cross-sector cooperation at the local and national levels, as this is necessary in order to avoid a serious deterioration of the lives of children with disabilities and their families".
Parents and young people with disabilities all pointed out how crucial early detection of disabilities is, as it leads to provision of the necessary support for the child as early as possible. The health sector has a key role in this task, but its close cooperation with all other sectors is essential to ensure that services for families of children with disabilities follow the entire lifecycle of these children starting from early childhood onwards.
“Early detection of disabilities and support from early childhood make a huge difference in the lives of these children in the long term. Therefore we are appealing to the Ministry of Health and all health centres to work closely with preschools, centres for social welfare, day-care centres and Associations of Parents of Children with Disabilities in the local community to ensure that children with disabilities get appropriate support from early childhood onwards,” Savo Knezevic from the National Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities “Nardos” said.
The need for vocational education of young people with disabilities was also discussed during the meeting because this is essential in order to allow many of them to become employed after high school and grow to become productive family members and citizens.
“Vocational education is especially important for children with intellectual disabilities, as it gives them a better future after high school. From the economic point of view, this is good for the country, as many crafts are dying out and there is still demand for these services. Therefore, we are appealing to vocational schools and the private sector to support the vocational education and employment of young people with disabilities,” Milisav Korac from the National Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities “Our Initiative” said.
The Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro reminded everyone of the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the need to guarantee respect for them in full within the education system.
“We are calling for reform from integrated to inclusive education, in accordance with the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which would allow a discriminatory system which directs children with disabilities into the educational process, which their peers do not go through, to change, and to provide appropriate support for each child within the educational system, in accordance with their individual interests and specific needs".
Finally, one of the key points discussed at the meeting was about the urgent need to establish local and national databases on children with disabilities. This is a key step for the planning and delivery of adequate services to them and their families. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this requirement become an even more urgent one.
“Knowing how many children with disabilities there are in every municipality and what type of disabilities they have are preconditions for providing them with adequate support to realize their rights and to engage in different activities, such as inclusive sports, in local communities from early childhood on. We are calling upon the local and national authorities to make this a priority in the coming period,” Ivan Radovic from the Special Olympics said.
The UNICEF Montenegro Representative, Juan Santander, will meet with other civil-sector organizations and relevant institutions in the coming weeks to learn about their perspectives on children’s rights during the COVID-19 pandemic and to support their advocacy for improving the lives of children in Montenegro.