Basic principles of inclusive education

Dec 29, 2013 by

Latvian Dyslexia Association (LDB) representatives will participate in the December 28 coordination meeting regarding the development of the document Guidelines for the Development of Education 2014-2020 (GDE) at the Ministry of Education (MoE) in Latvia, informs Latvian Dyslexia Association.

 

 

Given that the overarching objective of the GDE is to “provide quality and inclusive education for personal development, human well-being and to achieve sustainable growth in Latvia,” it has become clear that the analysis of the experience of the previous seven years, and the new guidelines and associated principles and actions are not directed toward creating a truly inclusive and modern education system. LDB believes that the GDE, as written, will continue the current administratively cumbersome and inefficient education system for students and will continue to discriminate against the thousands of Latvian students who do not receive the special education services that they need in order to be contributing members of Latvian society.

 

The initial process of creating the GDE did not involve organizations representing students with disabilities or non-governmental organizations representing students with learning disabilities, which is the largest special needs group internationally and in Latvia. Thus far in the development of the GDE the thoughts and opinions of non-governmental organizations, and parental guidance and arguments have been completely ignored.

 

The Latvian special education system has been criticized by both the World Bank and International Monetary fund as highly expensive, segregated and unequal. In addition, the Latvian special education system does not have any quality indicators that might support the conclusion that the current system is effective for students.

 

LDB, in opinions submitted to MOE regarding the GDE project, as well as those shared at the Cabinet of Ministers Committee (CMC) meeting on 16th December, pointed out that the current arrangements for the provision of special education service is only through institutions – a special school or class, not for individual students – which is contrary to the nature of inclusive education, and so contradicts the stated objective of the GDE.

 

Special programs are prescriptive in nature and licensing is internationally recognized as an outdated and ineffective special education structure. Unfortunately, these special programs are strongly supported Ministry of Education officials, despite their access, via projects or other Ministry of Education of European Union funded activity, to the abundant research regarding international best practice.

 

LDB has issued an opinion that the document needs the following improvements:

 

First, special education services should not be provided through institutions, pre-defined programs or institutional settings but rather attached to a particular student. The current regulation does not provide for individualization of special education services for a particular student. For example, the pre-defined program for special language disorders contains 19 very different sub-diagnoses – from stuttering to dyslexia – which by their nature are completely different problems. These different difficulties often demand completely different pedagogical methods and the provision of different Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) tools. In the absence of a real individualization, many students in these programs do not get the educational services they deserve, but instead receive education and services that waste time and money and may aggravate their special needs.

 

Second, provision of special education services should have universality and continuity. A student moving from one school to another or from one educational level to higher should have services throughout their education and get the services they need where they are. The current system does not provide this. In primary education (1st – 9th grade) in Latvia there are approximately 11 000 pupils with identified special needs. Of those in mainstream general secondary education (grades 10-12) , there are only 137 students with visual, hearing and physical disabilities included in official data. Children with other special needs in primary school continue to secondary school, yet are not accounted for. This means that pedagogical assistance is denied to students in secondary education with language and learning disabilities, which is about 45 % of identified special needs in primary education. Of course, de facto, these students continue to general secondary education in secondary schools, but all of the support they get is provided by their families, and the students themselves.

 

They work more than their peers, but in the absence of equal access to accommodation in daily school work and tests and exams they are discriminated against because of their special needs.

 

Third, to use contemporary ICT for pupils with special educational needs (a priority for students with reading and writing disabilities) to create a universal approach to the existing curriculum. So far, not in 9th class exams, nor centralized examinations has any student with special needs been allowed to use a computer with spell-check tools or text-to-speech programs. Approximately 10% of students in developed educational systems use these tools. The Ministry of Education defined support measures do not allow use of an individual computer, but do provide for use of a “ruler with a hole in it,” and colored overlays . Research has clearly shown that these tools do not minimize the effects of special needs, and so it can not be an alternative to the use of ICT and assistive technology for widespread use.

 

Fourth, equal funding for all special education students with the same disabilities should be guaranteed. The current system does not provide funding for students who are not in special programs. Students in special programs receive 60 % more state funding than students in mainstream classes. And, in special schools they get even more funding because the state pays for boarding students. Students outside of licensed programs do not get anything. This discriminatory treatment is embedded in the Law on General Education by saying that schools do not have to license a special program if/when it is demanded by a student or his/he parents. This means that families are often forced to make the decision between keeping their child close to home or sending them considerable distances in search of special programs – no matter how ineffective those programs are.

 

Fifth, the GDE should recommend additional funding be provided not only for support staff, but also for the subject teachers who do the daily work with most children with special needs. In most cases, effective teaching is the only intervention that improves students’ academic skills. In the mid-term, growth of learning outcomes in high school classes can only be provided through the use of personal ICT and pedagogical intervention, because only these tools directly improve the academic skills in which the student is weaker than his peers.

 

The Latvian Dyslexia Association in collaboration with other NGOs and parents will continue to work to reduce inequality and the backwardness of special education of Latvia. This is a system which sadly discriminates against thousands of Latvian students, and deprives some of the brightest people in Latvia of the opportunity to realize their full potential. This is huge loss to both the individual and the country level.

 

Information prepared by Eva Birzniece and Thomas Schmit, Latvian Dyslexia Association Chairman of the Board and member of the board.

Latvian Dyslexia Association: Ministry misinterprets decision regarding the basic principles of inclusive education :: The Baltic Course | Baltic States news & analytics.

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