International Fellowship Program
Primary and Secondary Education Working Group
Perspectives of inclusive education in Russia
An urgent need for improvement of quality in primary and secondary education is articulated in a contemporary educational policy agenda of the Russian Government. For the education of children with disabilities this issue is very important both in terms of improving special education and developing opportunities to study in a regular school. Recent attempts of Russian Ministry of Education to increase opportunities integration approach in teaching children with disabilities in regular school settings have spurred local authorities in a few Russian regions to restructuring of educational system, while the majority of the regional educational systems remain unchanged. This paper gives a brief description of some structural and institutional reform proposals on a regional level elaborated in the framework of the Primary and Secondary Education Working Group of International Fellowship Program. The proposal below include:
•the reform of a regional budget allocated to the system of education
•the establishment of a model inclusive school in the region
•the reform of the existing special school programs
•the establishment of an Inclusive Education Resource and Advising Center in Saratov
•the establishment of training courses for special and regular school teachers
The transformation of the Russian political and economic system in 1990s led to the
liberation of the educational policies and social policy towards the disabledfrom institutionalization to integration. There is a considerable development in elaboration of legislative acts and educational policies concerning the widening of educational opportunities of persons with disabilities. A few exemplary public and private integrated schools as well as education and advise centers have been established in capital cities. In general, however, both in capital and in the regions transition to inclusion has been restrained both by the lack of financial resource allocation, lack of initiative on the side of local authorities, and low public awareness. The majority of children with disability are taught in segregated schools, while those children with disabilities, who study at the regular schools, are enrolled in a typical school settings that are not adjusted to special conditions of inclusive environment and the principles of inclusion are not recognised by the staff.
According to national statistics, there are 1,8 million (5%) children with different impairments; more than 500 thousand children with special educational needs are studying at 1905 special schools including residential schools, about 34 thousand students receive home-based education, 210 thousand students are enrolled in special classes in regular schools.
Analysis shows, that the dilemma of segregated special education is two-sided: on the one hand it helps to combine medical and teaching skills, one the other, it prevents social integration of disabled children and promote their segregation and limitation in their life chances. Children with disabilities, especially graduates of the residential special schools are becoming a part of the least qualified social-professional groups, being on the low status positions, which do not require quality education or skills, get low income and have the lowest prestige. Each year every 5th of about 27 thousand graduates of special, correctional and residential schools enters vocational educational institution for further qualification, and every 10th gets employed. The majority of regular schools, colleges and universities are not ready to meet the students with disabilities: there are nor special constructions, neither special programs designed for such kind of education. Children and their parents are dissatisfied with this situation, which contradicts the contemporary liberal reformatory intentions of Russian educational system.
Another issue is whether or not Federal Law favor or require inclusion. The transition to inclusive education is predetermined by Russia’s ratification of U.N. Conventions of children’s and disabled persons’ rights. However, the Law of Russian Federation "On the education for people with limited abilities (special education)" is still waiting for its approval by the President of Russian Federation since 1996, while other Federal Laws have approved the priorities of integrated education (e.g. the Law on the Social Protection of the Disabled), and several governmental documents have stressed it as a key issue.
Another issue is public attitude towards the inclusion. Firstly, as the research shows, school administrators and officials of the Saratov Ministry of education support integration and outline the main difficulties of transition to inclusion as follows: 1) Lack of legislative base for implementation of inclusive education, 2) Inadequate financial base of educational system, which prevents recruiting proper professional staff and technical development of the program. Secondly, parents and teachers have similar opinion towards the inclusion, although in general parents are more tolerant than the teachers. It may be explained through the fact that inclusionary policy would obviously be prevented by the unadjusted physical environment, inadequate financing of the schools, to the quality of teaching, lack of specially adjusted educational programs, social inequality within a society, and lack of legislative base. Thirdly, the analysis shows that the school students are in support of inclusion. The closer the contacts are between the disabled and non-disabled peers, the more tolerance is expressed in opinion of school students towards the integration.
The objectives of the policy proposals included in this paper are as follows:
•to ensure the funding of school system restructuring
•to educate teachers and social workers in support of philosophy of inclusion
•to promote diversity in the primary and secondary education
•to advocate for the rights of children with disabilities
•to promote restructuring of the school curriculum and to ensure the availability of the support staff
•to encourage positive communication between disabled and non-disabled students
•to clear responsibility for strategic decisions in relation to disabled children in educational system authorities
•and to raise public awareness.
The liberal democratic vision of education as the vehicle for individual development and greater social equality does not correspond with separate school system which develop a problem of educational inequality. While the conditions of a residential special school can be as comfortable and nurturing as possible, the students are not adjusted to the post-school independent life. The individuals who are recipients of education cannot be identified as the source of the problem, rather, the special education system itself demonstrates its inadequacy with the notion of human rights. Principal criticisms of current practice of education of children with disabilities are as follows:
1) The part of teachers don't expect the special-ed children to succeed, and unwittingly fulfill their own prophecy.
2) Regular classroom teachers are willing to refer even slightly problematic learners to special education (and out of their classrooms).
3) There is a stigma associated with being placed in special education that damages a student's self-esteem. Undesirable in itself, this also interferes with learning.
4) Handicapped and non-handicapped children are unexposed to each other. A divided school experience makes each group more ready to accept discrimination against the handicapped in the future.
5) No special conditions are created for the integrated class, neither special training nor support staff is provided, which makes the teachers feel unsupported and overwhelmed, blaming the victim which is the child and the family (predominantly the mother)
Integrated school system is a precondition for democracy and for an open society. The opinion of the key actors of the educational system – educational administrators, teachers, parents and children – is favorable towards the idea of inclusion.
Advantages of inclusive education can be outline in the following way:
1) A reduced fear of human differences accompanied by increased comfort and awareness
2) Growth in social cognition
3) Improvement in self-concept of non-disabled students. Development of personal principles and ability to assume an advocacy role toward their peers and friends with disabilities
4) Warm and caring friendships
5) Although inclusive education seems likely to improve children's social development more than their academic achievement, the employment rate for high school graduates with special needs who had been in segregated programs is lower than for special needs graduates from integrated programs.
6) Integrated programs are more cost-effective than the traditional ones.
The most important obstacle that hinders inclusion of the child is that the system of education remains unchangeable when it integrates a child with special needs who succeeds in graduating a regular school only due to enormous energy to be spent by parents and teachers. This often leads to burnout effects, to abuses of power and to withdrawal of the child from the regular school setting. Analysis and advice could be stimulating tools for teachers as well as for students with and without disabilities in developing effective strategies of learning and positive communication. Without a substantial reform of the special education, serious dysfunction may occur in the operation of the democratic institutional system.
Assessment of alternatives
The alternative to a substantial reform would most likely be the worsening of the current
situation, and in particular
•continued shortening of the life chances of persons with disabilities
•continued defenselessness of the parents of disabled children when faced with power abuse and lack of adjusted environments and programs in the regular schools
•the further misunderstanding of inclusive education philosophies and programs by the public and the educators
•blurred responsibility for decisions among the actors of the education sector.
A regional budget should be planned in order to support a restructuring of a regional school system so that it would include at least one school that would serve as a pilot project and as a possible model for inclusive educational setting. Because the transition to inclusion requires special funding, the regional authority intervention is necessary.
A model of inclusive school in the region
Similarly to the practice existing in Moscow, StPetersburg and Samara, the pilot inclusive school settings should be established to provide children with disabilities and their families with a choice of educational services. Early intervention should be made available to identify appropriate services for a child.
Principles of inclusive education are as follows:
•The entire school community should be involved in a thoughtful, carefully researched transition. Before any new programs are developed, the staff must agree on a clearly articulated philosophy of education (an education ethic). Teachers and support staff must be fully involved in the decision-making, planning and evaluation processes; parents and students should be involved as partners in the decision-making process.
• Various needs of the disabled students should correspond with a continuum of services, including such educational environment, which is the least restrictive and the most inclusive; arranging physical and organizational conditions to accommodate the unique needs of each student; providing every student any services (s)he might need: physical, occupational, or speech therapy, instruction in Braille, sign language, mobility and orientation training, computer for communication
• Challenging every student to go as fast and as far as possible to fulfilling his or her unique potential; developing and maintaining a positive classroom atmosphere important to learning for all students
• Appeal processes must be developed that allow teachers to challenge the rightness of inclusive education placements that they determine to be inappropriate for a child; at the same time, supervision and independent expertise should be available to avoid teachers’ collaboration and discrimination against the child and parents.
• Sufficient support staff, helping professionals should be employed to address the social, emotional, and cognitive needs of all students.
• Successful inclusion practices depend on restructured schools that allow for flexible learning environments, with flexible curricula and instruction. Reduce in class sizes and/or increase in the numbers of teachers in the classroom are necessary. Real inclusion involves restructuring of a school's entire program and requires constant assessment of practices and results.
Reform of the existing special school programs
It is necessary to work toward unifying the special education and regular education systems. There should be one system for evaluation of special and regular educational systems. A restructured system that merges special and regular education must also employ practices that focus on high expectations for all and rejects the prescriptive teaching, remedial approach that leads to lower achievement. Children currently enrolled into residential schools, including orphans, may live in facilities provided by the school but many of them can study at local regular schools. At the same time, the residential schools could become inclusive school settings, by accepting children without disabilities. One of such residential schools, which acquired a lot of important experience and methods of special education, can be developed into the Resource Centers for Inclusive Education.
Financial support to the local pilot project of inclusive school should be coupled with training courses for teachers and school social workers. These courses ought to include both professional training and the improvement of service management and fundraising skills.
Inclusive education resource and advising center
Some parents are not aware of the rights they have, which seriously hinders their efforts to educate the child. Some teachers and school administrators are not aware of the resources they may need, which seriously hinders the inclusion processes. Targeted education and other support could improve the situation. This could be
conducted in at least three ways:
•The organization of further qualification courses introducing teachers and parents to inclusive education
•The publication of a series of articles on the issues.
•The establishment of a center providing advice and advocacy
A very important obstacle is unadjusted physical environment, while the level of tolerance in the society seems to be quite high. Current restrictions in educational choices of children with disabilities jeopardize the ability of the state to fulfill its functions and thus may induce a democratic deficit among the population. Also, the costs of action may increase as time goes by. It follows that action needs to be taken without delay.
The costs of the structural changes described above—in particular the establishment of a resource center, of training courses, and a pilot inclusive school—can be covered due to the restructuring of budget allocation for residential special schools. It may even prove economical on the long run. as integrated programs are more cost-effective than the traditional ones.
Other measures—including the increase of public awareness—would not induce substantial costs
The policy measures proposed in this study imply state intervention into thestatus quo. They
would necessarily conflict with the interests of the political forces and educational authorities
concerned with the special education for the disabled children. Therefore the success of the implementation depends largely on the pressure which the community of parents of children with disability and the disabled people’s associations and upon those experts interested in reforming the current state of affairs and the legislator. It is vital that the people get to know the problems of the education and disability, and have an idea of what solutions can help. Public awareness could be raised with the help of the above-mentioned Inclusive Education Resource and Advising Center in Saratovby means of
•keeping contact and exchanging information with the professional and civil organizations
•collecting information about the violations of disabled children’s rights
•offering publication opportunities to studies addressing the issues of inclusive education
•establishing a data bank available for the public, and offering a
description of the current situation as well as cases of successful inclusion.