Scholarly article on topic 'National Policies on Education and Strategies for Inclusion; Case Study - Romania'

National Policies on Education and Strategies for Inclusion; Case Study - Romania Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Alois Ghergut

Abstract In last decades more countries have encouraged the idea of inclusive society, open and flexible to the human diversity phenomenon. In this context the implementation of inclusive policies to integrate students with special educational needs in schools calls actions from different fields: psychology, pedagogy, sociology, social work, nursing, organizational, legal, political, etc. An analysis of the nationally situation has revealed a number of strands in the improvement and development of educational services for integration of children with special needs and disabilities in normal schools. In this context our study emphasizes the evolution, strengths and weaknesses of inclusive programs developing in the Romanian education system. Research methods are based on case studies and analysis of official documents elaborated by the Romanian state authorities. Gradually and in differing degrees, our normal schools have tried to open and to adapt the educational offer in relation with the new directions of change in educational activities (the result of integration and inclusion programs). Also, they attempted to develop partnerships with special schools, to access sources of information and continuous training of teachers to be able to adapt at specific requirements and challenges of inclusive schools. Like other countries, education of children with special needs in Romania on inclusive schools it's the consequence of education policies from the last years, after Salamanca Statement and Framework for action on special needs education. Another hand, inclusion and integration remain a controversial concept in education and many discussions about inclusion or integration should address several important questions for educators and specialists in education.

Academic research paper on topic "National Policies on Education and Strategies for Inclusion; Case Study - Romania"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 29 (2011) 1693 - 1700

International Conference on Education and Educational Psychology (ICEEPSY 2011)

National Policies on Education and Strategies for Inclusion;

Case Study - Romania

Alois Ghergut a*

a Alexandru Ioan Cuza University Iasi, Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, T. Cozma Street, no. 3, Iasi, 700554, ROMANIA

Abstract

In last decades more countries have encouraged the idea of inclusive society, open and flexible to the human diversity phenomenon. In this context the implementation of inclusive policies to integrate students with special educational needs in schools calls actions from different fields: psychology, pedagogy, sociology, social work, nursing, organizational, legal, political, etc. An analysis of the nationally situation has revealed a number of strands in the improvement and development of educational services for integration of children with special needs and disabilities in normal schools. In this context our study emphasizes the evolution, strengths and weaknesses of inclusive programs developing in the Romanian education system. Research methods are based on case studies and analysis of official documents elaborated by the Romanian state authorities. Gradually and in differing degrees, our normal schools have tried to open and to adapt the educational offer in relation with the new directions of change in educational activities (the result of integration and inclusion programs). Also, they attempted to develop partnerships with special schools, to access sources of information and continuous training of teachers to be able to adapt at specific requirements and challenges of inclusive schools. Like other countries, education of children with special needs in Romania on inclusive schools it's the consequence of education policies from the last years, after Salamanca Statement and Framework for action on special needs education. Another hand, inclusion and integration remain a controversial concept in education and many discussions about inclusion or integration should address several important questions for educators and specialists in education.

©2011Published byElsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibilityof DrZafer Bekirogullari. Keywords: inclusion, special education, children with special needs, policies on education

1. Introduction

The situation of the education of children and youths with special education needs (SEN) has changed and further developed since the late nineties. Accession to the EU and therewith the harmonisation of Romanian law with the UE principles and rules confronts Romania with the necessity to improve the access to education for disadvantaged groups. In the National Programme for Accession of Romania to the European Union, under the chapter regarding human rights and the protection of minorities, measures like the following ones have been envisaged:

* Alois Ghergut. Tel.: +40-232-201296; fax: +40-232-201128. E-mail address: alois@uaic.ro.

1877-0428 © 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Dr Zafer Bekirogullari. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.11.414

• restructuring/closing of large old-style child protection residential institutions, including those for disabled children by creating alternative social services;

• continuation of the process, started in 2001, of integration of children from the special education system into regular schools and, at the same time, prevention of unjustified entrances into the special education system, when other forms of education, responding to the special needs of the child, are available;

• development and promotion of programmes for disabled children, aimed at encouraging their integration into social life, as well as their integration in common schools and kindergartens.

In the last years the legal framework for integration and inclusion of children with SEN has been created. New schools have been established in different counties in Romania, existing schools took over new tasks and developed integrative structures and offered access to education for children and youths with SEN. Partly, this development led to good results - however, as regards contents and structures the implementation of integration varies considerably from county to county and also from school to school. Furthermore, the existing legal provisions regarding special needs education have been translated and analysed. The main outputs of the assessment can be summarised as follows:

• integration and inclusion of children and youths with SEN in mainstream schools has been the concern of politics as well as of many teachers, schools and parents. Almost one third of all children and youths with SEN in Romania attend mainstream schools. They are mainly children and youths with a low or medium extent of SEN whose integration appears possible without the schools taking construction measures or providing particular equipment. In cases where children and youths with severe and multiple SEN attend special schools or mainstream schools this has often been made possible with the support given by NGOs. Good models have been devised and likewise the legal provisions for the further development of integration and inclusion have been set (Phare Report, 2005).

• teachers of mainstream schools are not sufficiently prepared for integrative teaching; they are not trained in teaching in the frame of differentiated and individualised lessons. A co-operation in lessons between itinerant teachers and teachers of mainstream schools does not take place in practice (Disability Manifesto, 2003).

• a considerable number of children with severe and multiple handicaps does not attend school at all. For lack of transport facilities, lack of equipment and social services the integration in mainstream schools is considered to not be possible (Disability Manifesto, 2003).

• the responsibility for the identification of special educational needs is with the Commission for Child Protection of the respective county. The Commission takes a decision on the basis of the results of the Specialised Public Service of Complex Evaluation, a department that consists of paediatricians, neuro-psychiatrists, psychologists, psycho-pedagogues, social workers, speech therapists and physiotherapists. Up to now, the teacher of the child to be assessed is not involved in the identification of the special educational needs. Also the parents have no influence on the decision taken by the Commission although they are being consulted.

• the analysis of the legal provisions has showed that the legal foundations do in fact exist, e.g. in the Romanian Constitution2 and in the Law on Education (Nr. 84/7 Chapter IV/1995)3. All opportunities for and reconditions of the integration of children with SEN in mainstream schools have been regulated sufficiently and in concrete terms in the regulation 4653/8.10.2001 'The Methodology of Organising and Functioning of Educational Services for Deficient Children/Students Integrated in the Public School, by Itinerant Teachers' and in the regulation 4747/19.02.2002 'Regulation for the Organising and Functioning of the Pre-University Educational Units'.

2 The Constitution of Romania stipulates the right to education of all children and youths, irrespective of social or ethnic origin, of sex or religious beliefs, and the free-of-charge public education. With the same end in view, the Law on Education declares education a national priority and identifies the educational ideal function of the right to education: the free, comprehensive, and harmonious development of the human individuality, the creation of an independent and productive personality. Therefore, in Romania, the right to education represents a principle of the educational policy.

3 Access to basic education is facilitated by a system of social protection that takes various forms; for example, social protection for children and pupils with SEN: setting up and operation of adequate institutions, classes/groups for pre-schoolers and pupils with special needs, the possibility for children with SEN to continue their education at the post-compulsory education level, organisation of specific units - foster homes and family-type foster homes for children and orphans coming from poor families and for HIV-infected children.

• The identification of SEN is being regarded from a rather medical deficit theory point of view as opposed to an SEN point of view. The paradigm shift towards a positive view of SEN including the necessary support that has been made in the European countries over the last decades has not been taken into account yet in Romania.

The National Action Plan (NAP) for Access to Education for Children with SEN comprehensively describes and justifies the needs and possibilities for the further development of the system for Special Needs Education in Romania and makes concrete proposals for its implementation. The NAP will serve as a basis for the further development of the system in order to respond to paradigm shift focussing on the needs of the child with SEN. The NAP presents a comprehensive concept which is divided into the following issues:

• inclusion and integration in mainstream schools

• model of the resource centre

• early identification and early intervention

• transition from school to vocational training

• access to education for children and youth with severe and multiple SEN

• identification of SEN

• training for teachers

• legal framework

• the role of the parents.

Special schools are to support the work in mainstream schools and further develop to resource centres. Joint teaching of children and youths with and without SEN demands profound restructuring of the work at school (Daunt, 1993). This means e.g. restructuring of teaching methods, of the lesson design, of school life, of performance assessment and also of the assessment criteria. It is therefore necessary to provide intense further training for teachers (Ghergut, 2008).

2. Historical analyse about Romanian context for inclusion

In Romania's concerns and interest in education and educational and socio-professional integration of people with disabilities or learning problems have resulted in practical measures, some applied long before launching the concept of inclusive education in the literature. One argument for this is the Education Law of 1924 which provide the establishment, in regular school, classes for children with mental disabilities and children with health and sensorial problems (blind, deaf and dumb). This is, in all likelihood, the first entry in an official document concerning the organization of school structure (classes) differential mass schools, for children with various types of problems, or rather, integrated forms of education (which at that time did not wear that name). After the communist regime4 change the social and educational services for people with special needs in our country have undergone a series of transformations. Here are some milestones (Ghergut, 2006):

• The onset of non-governmental organizations in education and social welfare services for people with special requirements and opening in 1990 of the UNICEF representation in Romania, in Bucharest, one of the main partners of governmental institutions in this area, were absolute firsts for social services.

• In autumn 1993 were applied first pilot projects for integration (carried out between 1993-1997) who proposed the one hand, promoting school and social integration of children with disabilities and the other hand, the implementation with successfully of strategies at national level generalization of such practices; also the pilot projects attempted to redefine the role of parents in the evaluation process of children with disabilities, their implication in intervention programs for children with special needs, developing new tools work (personalized intervention programs) and improving intervention specialist.

• By joining of our educational system to the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities (UN Resolution approved in 1993), to the Salamanca Statement (1994) and to the

4 Until 1990 and the years prior to the emergence of the new Law of Education in 1995, the education for children with disabilities was provided only by special education network. Depending on the level of deficiency were identified following children categories: recoverable, partially recoverable or irrecoverable. For those considered irrecoverable access to education was completely inaccessible, because unrecoverable was associating with uneducated. For children considered recoverable or partially recoverable, school education was organized in residential institutions (institutions such as school houses, kindergartens or special schools with children's home); in these closed institutions, the opportunities for interaction and social development of children were very small.

Framework for Action in special needs education (UNESCO resolution from 1994), was highlighted the need to establish a clear national education policy and practical solutions to enable adaptation and flexibility of educational structures at all levels for respond to the particularities and diversity of educational needs in each community.

• On June 1, 1994 was founded in Bucharest, with support and technical assistance to the Special Education Service of the Ministry of Education and UNICEF in Romania, the National Network of Information and Cooperation for Integration into the Community of Children with Special Needs - RENINCO - informal network made up of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, persons interested and motivated to promote information on projects and community initiatives for education and social integration of children with disabilities.

• In 1995 the Education Law5 was passed which allowed inclusion of special education as part and parcel of the national education system and connection to international trends and developments.

• After 1997 was extended the development of partnerships between schools and national and relevant international organizations in the field (RENINCO, UNICEF, UNESCO, etc.), developing training programs for teachers in regular schools and special schools (partnerships for professionals and volunteers) (UNICEF, 1998).

• Implementation in 2002 of the National Program for Human Resource Development which is working in special education schools, to accelerate the integration of children with disabilities in public schools, initiated by the Ministry of Education; the purpose was preparing and raising awareness among all stakeholders, empowerment and participation in partnership for education in public schools of children with disabilities.

• In the period June 2002 - December 2003 was developed the National Program 'A school for all', launched by the Ministry of Education in partnership with UNICEF Romania, National Authority for Child Protection and Adoption (NACP) and the Association RENINCO Romania, which aimed to inform the population about advantages of school integration of children with special needs, awareness and preparation of school and community to integrate children and youth with special educational needs (Vrasmas & Vrasmas, 2007).

• Phare Project 2003, funded by the European Community - 'Access to education for disadvantaged groups', which aimed to support the Ministry of Education in order to implement a strategy on inclusive education, establishing and implementing a system for identification and selection of children with special needs for ensure their legal rights to education, in line with their physical and mental development and with their educational performance and their interest for school participation. Under this project was developed the National Plan of access to education for children with special educational needs, the practical way to harmonize the Romanian legislation with the EU special education and diversification of activities to identify children with special needs from all country.

• Develop the National Action Plan on Education for children with special educational needs (2004-2007), with following aims: a. developing and implementation of training programs for teaching staff in mainstreaming schools; b. community awareness, schools and families on the importance and positive effects of socialization and social integration process of children with special needs; c. acceptance of human diversity as a natural fact necessary in society.

• In 2005-2006 school year began implementation of a new Regulation of organization and operation of the units' compulsory education; in Chapter IX is provided several measures on school integration and equal opportunities to education for children with special needs.

5 The law contains the basic elements of education reform and school and social integration for children with special needs. Chapter VI, entitled 'Special education', in Articles 41-46, refers to pupils with special education needs. Article 41 states that 'special education is organised by the Ministry of Education for children (pre-school and pupils) with mental, physical, sensorial, language, socio-affective and behavioural deficiencies, in order to teach, educate, recover and socially integrate them'. Articles 42-46 give more details about the length of compulsory special education (which is 10 or 11 years according to the situation), the structure and content of special education (framework, curriculum, syllabi, textbooks, teacher guidebooks, etc.), school orientation and re-orientation to mainstream schools and from mainstream to special schools. Article 141, Paragraph l adds 'The Ministry of Education ensures specialised schooling and psycho-pedagogical support for children with physical, mental, sensorial or associated deficiencies'.

• In October 2005 was adopted Government Decision no. 1251 on measures to improve the business of learning, training, compensation, recovery and special protection of children / students / young people with special educational needs of the special education system and specially integrated.

• In 2011 was adopted a new Law of Education that includes a special chapter on the education of children with special needs and ways for ensure equal opportunities to education through the development of inclusive school programs.

In order to effect a shift towards a more inclusive approach to education, resources must be allocated to change attitudes, behaviour, teaching methodologies, curricula and the environment, so that educators can better meet the needs of all learners. According to the section of the National Programme for modernising special education entitled 'Integration and Rehabilitation of the Children with Disabilities in/through Community', the main objective of special education in Romania is the integration of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. At the time of writing, there appears to have been no implementation of this programme. Meanwhile, some efforts to mainstream children with intellectual disabilities have been counterproductive, largely due to a lack of adequate preparation and support of students, parents and teachers. The National Action Plan for Access to Education sets out a clear path towards inclusive education, and it includes specific targets, mechanisms and criteria for making this fundamental shift in the approach to learning. However, such a profound transformation will require extensive preparation, cooperation and follow-up to meet with success, and the Government will need to make a concerted effort to ensure that all those implicated in this process have the information and support necessary (Ainscow, 2004). Gradually and in differing degrees, the schools continued to open and to adapt their educational offer in relation to new directions of change in educational activities, the result of integration and inclusion programs, developing cooperative partnerships with special schools and accessing sources of information, advice and continuous training of teachers to meet specific requirements and other challenges of inclusive schools. An analysis of the situation nationally has revealed a number of strands in the improvement and development of educational services in the education system:

• Change optics in approach the child with special needs, focusing on individualization, flexibility and diversify activities in the classroom with students;

• Diversification of educational services that allow access to school for children and adolescents with disabilities, without separating from their families;

• Transformation of normal schools in inclusive schools (open to all categories of children) with extension services provided by special schools or mainstream schools and change of some of them into resource centers for integration;

• Increasing the number of institutional structures (developed with the help of NGOs) that provide educational services in school and organizing, in each community, of one resource center which be able to manage teaching and methodological changes in regular schools and help them to become more inclusive;

• Developing and expanding programs for training and further training for teachers;

• Improvement the identification process of special educational needs in order to become more efficiently the services of school psychology, compensation and educational support services.

3. Practical experiences

In Romania, a big part of children with special needs, in the first place those with less serious disabilities as well as a part of the children in difficulty study in regular schools. The last years tendencies show the existence of some specific approaching measures such as common activities run by the regular education system together with the assistance and education system dedicated to children with special needs or having health problems. For instance, during the 1998/99 year, over 1000 children with disabilities have been enrolled in regular kindergartens, which represents 1/3 from the total number of disabled children registered for this school year and attending a kindergarten.

A first objective of the inclusive education in Romania regards the integration of children in difficulty. There must be underlined that the majority of these children (aged 0-15) live in their family of origin. However, a part of them are institutionalized. The situation when children can be institutionalized are clearly stipulated by the legislation in force, which follows the children interests and their being kept close to their families, even when they are institutionalized. The categories of children in difficulty are: institutionalized children; children in foster families; adopted children; street children; abandoned children; delinquent children; children partially deprived of family

environment. The new Romanian legislation introduced the foster care or children entrusting to a professional maternal assistant, as an innovation in the children protection system. All persons receiving children in trust or foster care have the right to an allocation. Child trust and foster care are considered a superior alternative to child placement in residential institutions.

Together with solving the problem of children in difficulty, a special attention has been given to the improvement of the situation of the children with physical and mental disabilities. As a matter of fact, the protection of children with special needs has been one of the priorities of the first years after 1990, the Government continuing to show a special concern in this respect. On this purpose, in 1991, the Government created a specialized organisation, headed by a Secretary of state - The State Secretariat for Disabled Persons - that elaborates special policies in the field and coordinates the activity of all institutions destined to children with special needs. To the emergency measures taken during the first years with regard to food and care provision a substantial grow of the interest for special education has been added. The number of educators and care personnel has been increased and the educational methods and means have been diversified and their quality improved.

At national level, the inclusive education constitutes a priority. Its aim is to integrate disabled children into the regular education system in proportion of at least 20 percent until 2002 and of 50 percent until 2005; develop a network of recuperation and rehabilitation centres so that, until 2002, all disabled children have access to these centres and do their individual programme of recuperation and social integration; increase the number of disabled children protected through adoption or entrusting/foster care; development of a network of day-work centres with a capacity, at national level, of 2000 places, until 2002.

In order to attain these kind of objectives there have been developed a series of policies concerning the totality of factors that contribute to their achievement, based on the Law of Education and the Regulations for the Organisation and Functioning of Special Education. These laws stipulate the rights of disabled children of pre-school and school age with regard to their access to education in normal or special conditions. The main objective is to guarantee a decent life for disabled children and their integration in the regular forms of education. As a consequence of this strategy, during the year 1999, the process of decentralisation, through transferring the child- protection residential institutions (cradles and children homes) from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of National Education to specialized public offices at county level, has been finalized by offering them the instruments for accomplishing their new obligations according to the new legislation, and ensuring an efficient management of resources at county level.

Once this transfer closed, another priority emerged: the reorganization of these institutions and their changing into placement centres, having as main task the child protection and care in an environment as close as possible to the family one, throwing the much too accentuated medical and educational characteristics that dominated them before. The reform of the child-care institutions implies great difficulties, especially in the case of the big units, with more than 200 children, and of the counties where the decentralized units of the aforementioned ministries are less collaborative. In fact, there is a strong opposition from the part of the teaching personnel with regard to their detachment from the administration of the Ministry of National Education.

A special attention is given to the children with special needs, from cradles and from other units destined to these children. Children with special needs are identified even since cradles, and transferred to child-care and education institutions. Children that recuperated their disabilities as well as those with recoverable disabilities, living under the family or under public care, have the possibility of continuing their studies both in special and regular vocational schools, high schools and post secondary schools. During each level of care, the child can be given back to the family, if the family presents the necessary conditions for child raising and education, or, according to the legal provisions, the child can be adopted or placed in a foster family.

The institutionalized system of protection is crossing a moment of profound institutional reform that aims at: ensuring a gradual approach between special schooling for disabled children and normal school; progressive improvement of life and education conditions in child-care institutions; opening of the residential institutions to the community and interaction of orphan/abandoned/disabled children with other children of the same age. The reform of the institutionalized care system is followed by the development of the policies of de-institutionalization of children living in child-care institutions. This process aims at preventing both children admission and keeping in state institutions, and finding an alternative so that these children can raise in a family or community environment. This policy is based on the premise that families provide the optimal children development and that, as far as children cannot be placed in families, an environment as close as possible to the family one, must be created for them. On this purpose, within the child-care institutions have been created placement centres. This policy developed due to the public reaction with regard to the conditions existing in the cradles and hospital-homes

during the first years after 1990, but also due to the governing costs of placing children in residential institutions. For instance, the costs of the alternatives to placement centres represent less than half of the sums required for raising children in these centres.

In the context of de-institutionalization could be mentioned a series of measures initiated by schools, inspectorates and Ministry of National Education in order to support inclusive education. Here are some examples: participation of some groups of pre-school children, classes, groups of pupils from special institutions in common activities together with children from regular kindergartens and schools (drawing classes, physical education, practical activities, circles and cultural and sports competitions); adjustment of the teaching process from some of the special schools (for the partially blind, partially deaf and motor-disabled children) to the curriculum of the regular schools; sustaining admission and capacity examinations in equal conditions, giving to disabled children the feeling of being treated in a non-discriminative way; training some of the disabled children within regular vocational schools, groups and centres; doing practical activities together, with no differences; functioning of special classes and groups (with special programmes) within regular kindergartens; enrolling, where possible, children from special schools in regular schools. In order to support the inclusion activities, Romanian legislation defined new teaching positions, adequate to the field of integration: support-schoolmaster, support-teacher, teacher of special education; psycho-diagnostician; psychologist schoolteacher.

A clear tendency of the last period is represented by local communities' involvement in projects run by state institutions and different governmental institutions. For instance, the "Project of Reform of the Child Protection System 1999-2001" run by the Romanian Government (Department for Child Protection) - in partnership authorities from local public administration, with the participation of several international organisations (World Bank, FDSCE, UNICEF, USAID, EU/Phare, Spanish and Swiss Governments, SERA Foundation). Thus, the first component of this project refers to the establishment and development, in Romania, of a system of child-protection services based on the growing involvement of local communities in the organisation of inclusive education. In a first stage, educational policies aimed to restructure the old system of education. It is appreciated that this process has closed with the finalisation of the curriculum, management and administration, teacher training system reform, and the development of decentralisation. On the newly created basis, the education reform can focus on new objectives emerging from the new social and political realities.

Education for all is an implicit principle of the education reform, benefiting of an adequate legislative and institutional framework. Due to the specific conditions of the transition (poverty, anomie, instability, economic crisis) the concrete accomplishment of these principles interfere with measures of social protection, assistance and intervention.

4. Conclusion

The educational process is moving slowly towards integration of students with special needs and of minority students, but there are still many modifications and adaptations to be made until the current policies could be put into practice. The profound changes will take place gradually by consistently pairing the old with the new or facets of the old with aspects of the new, so that eventually the new replaces the old. If we take a look at other European Union Member States that are continuously developing a diverse and complex network of special schools, thus proving the need for such institutions and also their usefulness, and notice that their educational systems are still implementing residential systems based on integrated education while maintaining special schools (Popovici 2003), we can be more optimistic about the policies and practices in Romania. In conclusion, in Romania, changes are necessary in several areas, such as the following (Walker, 2009):

• transforming regular schools into inclusive schools with special or mainstream classrooms.

• new laws must be drawn up according to the current Romanian reality, as well as in accordance with international legislations.

• developing diagnosis criteria for easier identification of different categories of disabilities in Romania; assessment and evaluation tools should be more precise in pinpointing a wider variety of internationally already established categories of disabilities for better consistency and standardisation.

• developing a special education curriculum in regular classrooms by students with disabilities.

• teacher training has to be appropriate to the reality of educating individuals with special needs in regular settings, which may require training of professionals in other countries with a good tradition in educating students with disabilities; the creation of a course to provide them with basic knowledge in special education behaviour modification principles, and employment support upon graduation from this course;

• collaboration across scientific fields and among institutions responsible with educating learners with special needs, adults with disabilities, street children, ethnic minorities, orphaned minors, etc.

• changing attitudes and building a national and global citizenship where members of society take responsibility for the development of their community.

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*** Ministry of National Education, Institute for Educational Sciences (1999). Education for All: National Report on Romania. Bucharest.