Progress on inclusive education in Russia
When can we start talking about full inclusion in education?
How education for children with disabilities works, why inter-departmental cooperation is needed and what problems of inclusion remain unresolved.
On 29 July, a Council for Social Welfare Care conference organised under the auspices of the Russian government on the results of detailed inter-departmental plans (DIPs) on accessibility at all levels of education, recreation, career advice and employment of people with disabilities was held at Moscow’s Pedagogical University. The event was supported by the Ministries of Education, Higher Education and Science and Labour and Social Security.
Opinion of Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights
Maria Lvova-Belova, the Federation’s Children’s Rights Commissioner, gave a presentation on “Proposals and recommendations on the implementation of DIPs on behalf of the office of the Commissioner for Children’s Rights”.
Maria explained that these days more and more kindergartens, schools, colleges and universities are accepting people with disabilities. Inclusive fora are being created to give them the opportunity of leading a rewarding life in society. However, it will be a long time before we can talk about full inclusion, she said. More work needs to be done before that can happen, beginning with inter-departmental cooperation.
“Educating a person with disabilities is always a joint effort that involves medical treatment and teaching. But, unfortunately, not all institutions currently have properly equipped medical rooms”, said Maria.
Maria regularly receives enquiries from parents who say that their children would be able to study but needed certain medical interventions which cannot be performed in academic institutions, for example measuring blood sugar levels. As a result, children who could attend school remain home-schooled.
According to the Children’s Rights Commissioner, it is impossible to create new academic models if there are no reserves of staff to organise them. There is a need to train more people including visual impairment specialists, teachers for the deaf and hard of hearing, tutors and defectologists.
Inclusive education should be a continuous process. There should be no barriers preventing a person with a disability from progressing from kindergarten to post-graduate study. The Commissioner also proposes a review of the recommended list of professions for disabled people and to introduce meaningful career guidance.
“At the same time, it is important not to be too restrictive. Children with mental disabilities are advised just to take on manual work, although we know that many of them have the ability to prove themselves in sports, the arts and IT”, said Maria.
One element included in the DIPs is amending existing legislation. Maria recommends revising the list of recommended professions so that it reflects the demand for specialist areas.
Physical and architectural considerations are also key in providing accessibility to education. The principles of universal design are very important as considerable amounts of money are often invested in items that are inappropriate for a disabled child’s needs.
Teaching aids and technical equipment that help children with disabilities in improving their understanding of teaching material should not be forgotten and will require continued funding.
The Art, Science and Sport Foundation is involved in a programme called Special View which aims to make the cultural and academic environment more accessible for people with impaired vision, said Fatima Mukhomedzhan, the Foundation’s CEO.
According to Fatima, special attention is being focused on projects for enhancing the skills of teachers and academic staff to enable them to interact with visually impaired students for which courses were held last year with support from the Foundation.
As a result of this programme, the Foundation is recommending that a course on tutor support be included in the professional development system for professors and teachers.
Another initiative implemented by the Foundation is to give braille presentations to children ranging from six to eighteen years of age. However, children often start their education in specialist institutions later than their peers, finishing their studies after reaching adulthood and so do not receive technical rehab support. The Foundation intends to resolve this issue with support from resource education and methodological centres (REMCs).
The Foundation also proposes developing guidance for adapting information and educational resources for blind students and is willing to organise a suitable pilot course for REMCs as early as this year.
An unresolved issue
According to Anna Bitova, Chair of the Board of the Centre for Curative Pedagogics, hardly any Russian regions have addressed the issue of access to quality education for children with severe and multiple developmental disabilities (SMDDs). They are mostly home-schooled and often in a very formal way. This is because the education of these children is regarded as a separate category that requires financial support, specialist staff and constant psychological and pedagogical help.
DIPs do not include the education of these children as a separate category. The exception is St Petersburg which has incorporated teacher training in a programme that supports children with disabilities in its DIPs.
According to Bitova, the concept of severe and multiple developmental disabilities and the specifics of teaching these children need to be enshrined in law. In particular, the Centre for Curative Pedagogics has suggested the creation of an inter-departmental working group with the Ministry of Education to provide DIPs with the necessary changes to support children who have SMDDs.