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2014 Annual Report on Including Children with Special Needs

July 2013-June 2014

The mission of the Working Group on Including Children with Special Needs (Inclusion Working Group) is to work with early educators to address complex issues facing children with special needs and their families, advocate for their full inclusion in communities around the world, and promote practices, which positively impact children.

Goals

  • Address issues facing children with special needs and their families
  • Protect the rights of children with special needs and their families
  • Advocate for their full inclusion in learning communities
  • Promote a global perspective
  • Spread awareness education through networking
  • Provide resources and training for teachers, caregivers, and families
  • Instill greater interest in inclusive designs for children with special needs

Recent Activities
Our primary focus this year was to increase the number of delegates involved in our work at the 2014 World Forum on Early Care and Education and increase the number of countries represented, as well as develop plans for our Working Group meetings and sessions at the 2014 World Forum.
In addition, we shared stories and reports regarding work on inclusion, via email and the World Forum website.  For example, several members of the Inclusion Working Group collaborated at the December 2013 Teacher Training in Kathmandu, Nepal, on ‘Special Needs Children:  An Introduction’ at the Early Childhood Education Centre (ECEC), Glen Buds Secondary School, Oracle Ray Academy.

2014 World Forum on Early Care and Education

At the 2014 World Forum in Puerto Rico, delegates interested in the Inclusion Working Group participated in 2 day-long Working Group meetings followed by two panel presentations during the conference. It was a productive and exciting time for all of us who joined together for one or more of these events. The whole experience served to re-dedicate ourselves to supporting children with special needs and their families as they journey toward inclusion in school and in their communities.

On Day One, we shared country and project reports to get an “audit” on inclusive practices around the world from the very personal perspective of our participants.  It was fascinating to hear the range of meaning attached to inclusion across countries and what follows is just a flavor of our findings:

  • Pay Attention to Government and Other Partners – Pamela Ellis-Kane (Australia) shared that it is useful to hold government accountable for all its promises, and encouraged us to follow government actions and be outspoken. We need to work with all teachers who work with children, not just special educators. On a daily basis, in our communities and with the families we work with, the way we behave and speak about inclusion will model behavior for them. This can and will change attitudes that will in turn lead to changes in policy, international laws, and norms. In the discussion of the importance of partnerships, Bishnu Bhatta, Nepal,  shared his efforts of collaborating with the Institute of Cultural Affairs and the International Teachers and Trainers Association in Nepal.
  • Clarify the Meaning of Inclusion – It is a great need to raise the interests and standards in Inclusive Education among students, educationalists, and policy makers in our respective countries to ensure that no child is left out.  ‘What is Inclusion’ in any given country must be discussed.  Hopefully the answer reflects the strong beliefs underlying the principle of Inclusive Education:  All children will benefit from an inclusive program, regardless of their differences, although they may learn at different rates and levels.
  • Focus on Teacher Training – An area that was of great concern across the many countries represented was teacher training. As an example, Anne Sivanathan, Malaysia, implored that it must focus on the students’ need to learn actively, to seek creative solutions, and applicable methods. If we want to promote a culture of high standards for inclusive education educators, the training must change from exam-oriented paper and format-based schools to exams reflecting more practical and experiential learning.
  • Address Discrimination Against Children with Special Needs – The biggest challenge faced by children with special needs in developing countries is that they are considered second-class citizens in the world, which is directly linked to discrimination against children with special needs.  We must create barrier-free environments where schools remove any physical barriers.  Further, we need to acknowledge Model Schools in our countries. It is important to adopt and acknowledge schools that are already practicing inclusion successfully by providing them with extra financial aid.
  • Broaden the Definition of Inclusion – Patience Awopegba, Ethiopia, insisted that we must take a broader definition of inclusion that expands education to vulnerable and disadvantaged children. To be successful, we must adopt an Indigenous approach to early education, where cultural and core values are at the center of our work. We must train parents how to take care of their children with models that translate information into local language and, for example, make use of strong oral traditions.

This led to an exciting discussion about exclusive practices and the importance of grassroots-education as a means of helping to bring these exclusive practices and atrocities to an end. Patience explained that it was about spending real time with the people working in the field, the real grassroots organization.  A booklet has been published by UNESCO on Indigenous Early Childhood Care and Education (IECCE) curriculum framework for Africa: A focus on context and contents, part of the ‘Fundamentals of Teacher Education Development’ series.

At the end, the group felt there were enough new ideas and success stories to be able to share and write about them. We also felt that we needed to define inclusion better, to include advocacy and changes in attitude, as well as push for policy and implementation of effective practices.  We spent Tuesday morning re-writing our mission statement and goals.

This information allowed us to spend the end of the day discussing 6 Big Questions:  Successes, Challenges, Supports, Barriers, Expertise Needed, and What the Inclusion Group Can Do for Nation Members.  The discussions were extremely moving and very productive. It was so inspiring to see this new group of experts discussing how to tackle global issues, working with government, activists, non-governmental organizations, and young people.

We ended the second day of meetings by playing with the blocks, as tools of active learning.  We as a team designed an inclusive environment for individuals with special needs.  We were inspired to come up with creative thinking abilities as well as to instill greater interest on designs for children with special needs.

During the main program of the 2014 World Forum, the Inclusion Working Group organized and presented two sessions on special needs and inclusion:

  • Inclusion Attitudes, Policies, and Practices: Presentations and discussions on worldwide thinking about inclusion of children with special needs.
    Presenters: Anne Subashini, Malaysia • Donald Piburn, United States • Yolanda Gonzalez-Roman, Puerto Rico • Patience Awopegba, Ethiopia • Robert Turner, Puerto Rico
  • Inclusion Practices Around the World
    Presenters: Rhoda Odigboh, Nigeria • Donna Freeman, Canada • Robert Goldberg, United States • Cynthia Haihambo, Namibia • Maureen Ihonor, Nigeria

Throughout our days together, discussions of each other’s country-specific circumstances provided chances to share ideas, challenges, and strategies across our very diverse countries, as well as make collaborative plans for the future. We also broadened our range of participation in the pre-session planning meetings, with participants from Australia, Colombia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Puerto Rico were at the table for the first time, joining our returning friends from Canada, Malaysia, Namibia, Nepal, and the United States.  This gave us an opportunity to refine our mission statement and goals, in light of the larger, more world-wide perspective represented.  It truly secured our identity as a Working Group.  Finally, with this solid identity, we were able to collaborate effectively with other working groups like the Working Group on the Rights of Children in Children’s Homes to learn and share strategies for growth, and practice ways to network with other groups.

A special thanks to Dr. Loren Weybright, United States, Patience Awopegba, Ethiopia, Susan Musgrave, Canada, Donald Piburn, United States, Maureen Ihonor, Nigeria, Pamela Ellis-Kane, Australia, Sara Gonzalez-Jordan, United States/Puerto Rico, Rhoda Odigboh, Nigeria, Donna Freeman, Canada, Cynthia Haihambo, Namibia, Bishnu Bhatta, Nepal, Bob Siegel, United States, Ana Maria Rodriguez, Colombia, and Kirsten Haugen, United States, for their tireless participation in the two days of working group meetings before the conference and for their stimulating presentations in our two Inclusion Sessions during the 2014 World Forum. Thanks also go to Yolanda Gonzalez, Puerto Rico, and Robert Turner, Puerto Rico, for their presentations enlightening us on their projects in Puerto Rico. Copies of the presentation materials presented by these colleagues are available on WoFoNet and the Inclusion Working Group resource page.

Planned Activities for 2015 and Beyond

Our preconference team felt that our Inclusion Working Group could most benefit World Forum Foundation members and all constituents by setting up a vibrant resources section on our website.  Specifically:

  • Set up a vibrant resources section on our web page where those interested could post resources in the form of videos, success stories, and research that have proven effective. Real stories are often life changing, not only educational, but thought provoking, fun, and engaging. The advantage of the videos is that the viewer can replay any part of the clip they like until they get the desired information needed.
  • Compile additional resources to post on our website including teacher training modules developed by our members willing to share.

Donna Freeman, Canada, has volunteered to compile resources to post on our website. Roberta Goldberg, United States, and Cynthia Haihambo, Namibia, have volunteered to compile research related to inclusive education. Anne Sivanathan, Malaysia, Roberta Goldberg, United States, and Deepak Sapkota, Nepal, continue to serve as primary leaders of the Working Group on Including Children with Special Needs.

Leadership

  • Coordinators: Anne Sivanathan, Malaysia • Deepak Sapkota, Nepal • Roberta Goldberg, United States
  • International Advisory Group Members: Anne Sivanathan, Malaysia • Deepak Sapkota, Nepal
  • Other leaders are listed under Planned Activities

With gratitude for the important work all delegates do in their countries and their willingness to share it with us.

Anne, Deepak, and Roberta

 

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