Inclusion was being discussed in Ukraine since early 1990s. Separate projects on implementation of integrated education in secondary schools (education of healthy children and children with special needs in one class) were funded from time to time. A five-year Canadian and Ukrainian project “Inclusive Education for Children with Special Needs” ends in 2013. Two regions, Lviv oblast and the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, participated in the project. Of course, there were some developments in the field of inclusive education implementation in Ukraine before 2008. They were used as the basis for realization of this project. Thanks to its implementation, 100 children in the Crimea and Lviv oblast were accepted to inclusive classes this year. In general, about 500 children with special needs are covered by inclusion programs.
“I am far from being able to look at inclusion through rose-colored glasses, but I still believe that changes have taken place in the minds of government members in the past five years,” says Valerii SUSHKEVYCH, head of Committee for Pensioners, Veterans, and Disabled of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. “During the past few years, we adopted 20 regulatory documents that let us implement inclusion in secondary schools. This topic received the most attention in 2009, when the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Resolution No. 1482, which had a profound influence on forming state policy in the sphere of inclusion implementation.
In particular, it clearly defined activities of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Policy, and Ministry of Construction and Architecture. Also, the official status of inclusive integrated education is defined there. We need to think about pre-school education now, about development of inclusion in this system. Because when children are moved from a closed environment, from isolation into a school class, they experience a state of shock. Unfortunately, very few are able to understand this now.
Ukrainian side of the project hopes that cooperation with their Canadian colleagues will go on. “These people have to be the leaders of changes,” says Stephen POTTER, director of the Canadian International Development Agency in Ukraine. And though a number of ministries, state institutions, and NGOs participated in the project, the most important part of work is to be done by parents who raise children with special needs, say the organizers.
Specialists at the Kerch Kindergarten No. 6 created an individual curriculum for Stanislav Platonov’s seven-year-old son (according to father, his son suffers from the effects of birth trauma). The child develops better thanks to this curriculum. The initiative belongs to parents, who decided to let their son study with healthy children. Platonov says that the hardest part of making this decision was the absence of understanding from kindergarten’s management, who persuaded the man that his son would be better off in a specialized group for children with special needs.
Together with his wife, Platonov relied on the opportunity provided by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 24): “All children can study together on equal grounds.” The main difficulty is that such children need additional help, and teachers are afraid of not being able to cope with caring for children with special needs.
“Our son started talking to teachers in group classes, and now he participates in all sorts of discussions. This has never happened before, getting him to talk was difficult. In the three months that we have been taking him to this kindergarten, a group of experts including pathologist, psychologist, head of the kindergarten, teachers, physical education teacher, created an individual curriculum for our son. After studying according to it, our child started using four or five words in a sentence, while before he never used more than two words. This is the process of speech development. We had an opportunity to watch him study and answer teachers’ questions. Therefore, we understand inclusion as a system of support, which is needed for a particular child. There are specialists in each school and kindergarten who can help in a similar situation. I would advise that parents, who want to enroll their child in a regular kindergarten or school, should address education offices in a written form. Because if you just talk with heads of educational institutions, the decision is often delayed,” says the father of a child with special needs Stanislav PLATONOV.
Parents who dared to give their children an opportunity to study with healthy children unanimously say that all the problems come from the fear that their children will be made fun of or misunderstood. The hardest part is to overcome this fear and realize that in order to prepare the child for independent life in the future, they should give them an opportunity to communicate with peers. Platonov says that all these fears are imposed by stereotypes that the child would not be accepted. In reality, it is the other way around: children are very kind in kindergarten and school, especially in primary school.
According to the legislation, the state has to create opportunities for support of such children. In particular, it provides creation of a post of assistant teacher in a class where a child with special needs studies and a post of inclusion specialist. According to the data provided by Vira Shkliarenko, head of the Inclusive Education and Residential Care Institutions Section at the Department of General, Secondary, and Primary Education at the Ministry of Education and Science, Youth and Sport of Ukraine, almost 100 assistant teachers work in Ukraine now.
Iryna from Yevpatoria is an assistant and partially a teacher for her eight-year-old son. Her child was enrolled in the first grade of a general education school in September. It took almost a year to get all the paperwork ready. The woman says she felt support and understanding of people who work in the field of inclusion in the Crimea. Also, she was supported by the partners of the Canadian and Ukrainian project.
“School No. 15 was the closest one to us geographically. I addressed it with a statement that I want my son to study there, but we felt a rather cool attitude from the very beginning. The director said that he was ‘not ready’ and asked us to come in a week. The matter was solved after the intervention of the head of Department for Children and Social Protection at the Ministry of Education and Science, Youth and Sport of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Serhii Trifanov. Our application was accepted in May, and we started getting ready for school, because I wanted my child to be prepared for it. At the moment, my son is in a class with 32 other regular students. At first, the school provided a part-time assistant teacher, but this person could not give anything useful to my child. That is why I go to school with my son every day now, observe the process, and try to help him get the most use out of every lesson. Besides, my child attends additional lessons with a pathologist and a speech therapist,” Iryna says in a trembling voice. One can only imagine how much effort (and not only the physical one) she puts into this. According to the woman, her child goes to school eagerly, and seeing this fills her with happiness.
Inclusion is not a goal, but a process, the experts explain. And it is not just a process of integration of children with special needs, but a process of broadening of our consciousness. When parents talk about inclusion, they usually complain about stereotypes about children with disability, passiveness of school directors, and hostile attitude of teachers. “This is not to happen in my school…” “Oh, you just made some nonsense up…” – almost everyone related to the process of inclusion had to listen to something like that. Parents think that the main point is to let their children feel joy from being in a class and studying with healthy children, from understanding that they have the same rights as everyone else.