For more than a year, Open Society Fund Prague has been collaborating with the regional governorates of the Czech Republic in developing an inclusive education strategy. Karlovy Vary governorate was the first one to start the work and it is now the first one to put recommendations for higher inclusion into practice.
The collaboration with the Karlovy Vary governorate had several stages. During the initial stage OSF Prague held several round tables about the benefits and challenges of the inclusive model in the context of a long tradition of special schools in the Czech Republic. People from schools and city council officials attended training about the basic principles of inclusive education. OSF Prague also consulted local stakeholders and initiated a multi-agency work group to design the strategy. Before starting the work, some of the members travelled to the United Kingdom to study inclusive education in schools and various institutions of the multicultural city of Leicester(see the blog here).
The regional multi-agency group has had regular bimonthly meetings where we discuss problems together, share good practices and learn from case studies. OSF Prague also assigned a detailed analysis of the current situation of children with special educational needs to the research team. The research held between June and December 2012 described strong and weak points of educating children with special needs in the region. According to the research,Karlovy Vary region has the second highest rate of diagnostic Romani children designated as “lightly mentally handicapped”, thus being taught in so called practical schools with reduced curriculum. The research showed that 68 % of children with physical or sensory disabilities are already individually integrated in normal schools. On the other hand, only 3.8 % of children with “light mental handicap” are integrated in classes for typically developing children.
Amongst the findings there were also obstacles of increasing integration. The main challenges are lack of pedagogical skills in individualizing learning – most teachers admitted they do not feel comfortable teaching in a heterogenic class where children’s development, learning style, and educational challenges vary highly for various reasons. However, teachers are open to more education if it reflects the needs of the school and includes mentoring. The research also highlighted positive examples: There are 10 elementary schools with very high rate of integrated children with special needs (10 – 20 %) and they are open to share their experience with others.
The research results were presented at a conference in the city of Karlovy Vary on May 14, 2013 to more than a hundred teachers, principals, city officials and representatives of other pedagogical institutions – it was the first event of such kind and scope in the region. And it has brought the first success as the governorate promised to change the content and form of the current system of teacher’s trainings and make it more oriented to inclusive education. This is an encouraging sign. Sometimes it feels like promoting an inclusive education in the Czech Republic is a slow and painful process, but seeing the first steps being taken made us believe that no matter how fast, we will succeed one day.