Today, the international workshop headed “Higher Pedagogical Education Reforms within the Context of Inclusive Education” was launched at the Pedagogical University. It officially announced the cooperation established between the ASPU Faculty of Special Education and the USA University of Minnesota.
Among those participating at the workshop were experts from the USA University of Minnesota and Concord University, representatives from the USA Embassy, UNICEF, inclusive schools, rehabilitation centres, leading NGOs, high-ranked state officials, representatives of pedagogical universities of Armenia, lecturers and students from the ASPU.
The Rector of the Pedagogical University Rouben Mirzakhanyan referred to the process and issues of inclusive education reforms that had been conducted in our country starting from 2000 and noticed the following, “In 2014, the amendments to the Law on “Education” implying the transition to widespread inclusive education, have a meaning of utmost importance for us that brought forward numerous problems. The most complicated is the solution of moral and psychological issues in the public. Society and its different layers should be ready to resolve those issues as they refer to all of us.”
The Rector added that training highly professional specialists was also very important as based on their decisions, institutions providing special education would become pedagogical and psychological centres.
Likewise, Rouben Mirzakhanyan highlighted the importance of cooperation with one of the US’ largest institutions – the University of Minnesota expressing a hope that the experience of providing international inclusive education would be transferred to the lecturers of the APSU Faculty of Special Education, as well as review of educational programmes and content of the Faculty’s taught courses and other reforms. Within the scope of partnership, the international consultation and technical support will strengthen the capacity of effectively assisting the ASPU educational and research activities, as well as inclusive education; besides, Laboratory Supporting Inclusive Education will be established at the Faculty of Special Education.
Similarly, the Rector highly praised the work carried out by the Dean of the Faculty of Special Education of the Pedagogical University Armine Avagyan and the support provided by the UNESCO only as a result of which such cooperation became possible.
The RA Minister of ES Levon Mkrtchyan, in his turn emphasized significance of organization of the international workshops and dissemination of inclusive mentality in public.
Additionally, the Minister noticed that the process that had started several years ago had faced strong resistance in the beginning. However, nowadays having passed a long and serious path, Armenia has become one of the most tolerant countries.
“Inclusive education should be reviewed from a wider scope than mere inclusion of persons with disabilities into society. Involving the Syrian Armenians at secondary school systems and ensuring women’s equal rights in educational system is also inclusion.”
Besides, Levon Mkrtchyan mentioned that the Ministry was trying to radically change the structural format making a transition from special schools to centres providing medical-psychological services, etc.
“The format already exists, caring people are engaged therein; and we need to be able to admit inclusion not only into the secondary but also into the higher educational systems. By considering inclusion as a way of public thinking, it will be possible to achieve major quality changes.”
Furthermore, the RA Minister of ES expressed acknowledgements to the Pedagogical University for preparing knowledgeable specialists of the field highlighting that the work of the University is invaluable in this regards.
“We need to ensure positive atmosphere in RA for the development of this programme; we shouldn’t hurry, but at the same time we need to be not late. We need to step by step move towards the solution of issues as much as possibility. Without the assistance of international experts it will not be possible to manage within this programme. The workshop was important, and the use of our American colleagues was useful to realize that inclusion has certain grounds, and it makes a society more tolerant.”
The Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Affairs Jemma Baghdasaryan stressed out two issues in the sphere of inclusive education- correct evaluation of children’s needs and ensuring availability of pedagogical staff with relevant education.
The Deputy Minister highlighted in his speech that children’s education rights refer to each citizen as inclusive education serves as a solid ground of establishing social public.
The acting representative of the UN Armenia Liv Elin Indreiten expressed her acknowledgements to the Management of the University to the teaching staff of the Faculty of Special Education for the effective work; similarly, she conveyed acknowledgments to the country’s Government for taking up the commitment of protecting the rights of persons with special needs.
“Nowadays, Armenia is transforming its system of defining and assessing disability aiming at transferring into the WHO model for International Classification Functioning, Disability and Health”, mentioned Liv Elin Indreiten assuring that inclusive education is important from the perspective of ensuring high quality of education also for other students.
In the opinion of the representative of the UNICEF Armenia, the cooperation with the University of Minnesota will create a platform for the discussions of native and international specialists, their exchange of experience, where solution in line with international standards and local needs will be established.
“Armenia has a long way to cross in this field and serious activities to be carried out at all levels.
On behalf of the US Embassy in Armenia the US Deputy Ambassador Raffik Mansour expressed their permanent support towards all inclusive programmes that will serve for the benefit of vulnerable children of the country. The Deputy Ambassador spoke about the lectures delivered by the international experts at the APSU Faculty of Special Education by the assistance of the USA Embassy in the RA, further cooperation and promised to increase awareness about inclusive education through other initiatives too.
Later on, the President of the NA Standing Committee of Healthcare, Motherhood and Childhood Ara Babloyan also outlined the importance of organizing the conference and proudly mentioned that Armenia was the first one of the Soviet countries that considered inclusive education system. Speaking about the children’s rights, Ara Babloyan assured that by violating them, we prevent the establishment of stable basis.
“There has been criticism and it will continue to be but we need to study the best practice of the world and to create our model of inclusive education based on peculiarities of our country,” said Ara Babloyan and stressed out the interdepartmental cooperation of the country ensuring that each of them have a lot to do starting from early identification of the issue up till ensuring comprehensive education, carrying out maximum work to eliminate discrimination.
Likewise, the latter suggested to the Rector of the Pedagogical University that when creating a model, activities should be implemented in kindergarten-school and later also university chain thus establishing the educational base.
“The right of education of persons with special education needs is defined in a number of international documents which Armenia is also member of; we need to apply revolutionary changes”, stated the President of the NA Standing Committee of Science, Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Artak Davtyan and ensured that the Government of the country was initiating steps for the transition to be stable.
The Senior Expert on inclusive education of the UNICEF Paula Hunt introduced the protocol on inclusive education of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities highlighting that the declaration does not set new rights but it reconfirms the already existing ones and defines additional obligations for the Government thus ensuring their implementation.
“No child shall be left out of the educational system and any such legislation shall be announced void. Inclusive education requires changes in the whole academic process and commitment for ensuring the availability of the whole system”, Paula Hunt mentioned adding that a country must provide with three types of support- reasonable accommodations, individualised support programmes and general assistance.
The expert of the US Minnesota University, PhD of Science Chris Jeanstown reflected in his report the impressions of the world about disabilities, introduced how the World Health Organization defined disabilities through the social and environmental prism etc.
Highlighting the role of inclusive education the doctor quoted the words of Lev Vikotski; “a derelict deaf and dumb child left on its natural development will never learn to speak just as a blind person will never be able to write. In this case education comes as assistance, thus, creating artificial cultural methods that is to say a specific system of cultural signs and symbols specifically accustomed to peculiar psycho-physiological features of not normal children”.
During the round table discussions along with the workshops the international and Armenian experts discussed and made a comparative analysis of four priority topics- the role of the Pedagogical University in the sphere of education reforms, evaluation of special education needs conditions for children with disabilities and individual curricula, their support mechanisms, theoretical and practical issues of Logopaedics.
Summarising the results, the Dean of the Faculty of Special Education Armine Avagyan assured that the workshop had positive outcomes, the round table discussions were held in crowded auditoriums accompanied by active discussions upraising important issues. In the Dean’s opinions one of the most important upcoming tasks in the process of training teachers would be concentrating on other professions too, so that the training of specialists of chasing the ideology of inclusive education is not just the task for the Faculty of Special Education.
“The concept of inclusiveness should lay at the basis of teaching each subject so that when graduating, the future pedagogue already knows that all problems of all children belong to all of us”, Armine Avagyan mentioned adding that a slogan was born as a result of the workshop results that fully describes the activities of the sphere.
“If we want to provide quality inclusive education, we need to be aware, act and believe.”