Integrated or Inclusive Education in Uzbekistan? - Dilmurad Yusupov
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Integrated or Inclusive Education in Uzbekistan?

Illustration: Eldos Fazylbekov / “Gazeta.uz”

On 28 April 2020 a draft presidential decree “On Measures to Further Improve the Education System for Disabled Children” and the Concept for the Development of Inclusive (Integrated) Education in Uzbekistan until 2030 were presented for public discussion. I did an analysis of the draft document that was developed by the Ministry of Public Education of Uzbekistan and wrote op-eds in Uzbek for KUN.uz and in Russian for Gazeta.uz where I provided the analysis on the difference between integrated and inclusive approaches to education and whether the measures proposed by the Ministry of Public Education are in accordance with the principles of inclusive education.

Organising a public discussion of the draft decrees and the 2030 concept of inclusive education should be recognised as a significant step towards strengthening the social protection of disabled children, the development of education and their inclusion in Uzbek society. At the same time, the draft documents contain a number of contradictions, and the proposed measures may not fully meet the principles of inclusive education.

Separate classrooms – inclusion or segregation?

According to the draft decree, starting from September 1, 2021, it is planned to create a “separate supporting correctional classes for children with various deviations in physical and mental development and in need of recovery”. In addition, a full-time position of a defectologist will be opened in all pilot secondary schools.

Let’s imagine: from September 1 of the next year, a separate first class “D” for disabled children is opened in a secondary school in Region N. According to Farhad Artykbaev, the father of a child with autism, the creation of such “state in the state” will be contradictory to the principles of inclusive education and will lead to the separation of children on the basis of disability.

As stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, inclusive education (from the French inclusif – “including in itself”) means the joint education of disabled and non-disabled children.

A separate class “D” can give non-disabled children a negative message. The experience of many countries shows that separate classes for children with special needs at mainstream schools are not accepted by the community of children. Moreover, conducting experiments on disabled children, creating separate conditions for them within the mainstream school – while all other non-disabled pupils, their parents and teachers are not prepared to accept such children – can have negative consequences for the emotional development of children in class “D.” For example, there may be cases of bullying towards disabled children with a label of class “D”.

Yes, in some countries a similar experience has already been implemented. The idea was that initially created separate classes for disabled children are then meant to gradually join non-disabled children in general classes. Such a gradual approach creates certain opportunities for children to communicate but leaves their contacts limited outside the educational process, which contradicts the principles of inclusion.

Different children – different needs

Based on the terminology used in the draft decree, it remains unclear what types of impairments are meant in included in the document. Children can have various impairments of body functions including physical, mental, mental or sensory (hearing and vision) impairments and/or their combinations. Each impairment is characterised by the unique set of individual needs of the child.

For example, for a child with physical impairments, it will be necessary to equip the school building with ramps and other types of reasonable accommodation; for a child with visual impairment, you will need textbooks in Braille and special devices (Braille device and stylus, Braille display and printer, etc.), for deaf and hard-of-hearing children – a sign language interpretation service, for children with learning disabilities – additional services of an individual tutor.

In this regard, mixing children with different needs in the class “D” will lead to the fact that one teacher and one defectologist will not be able to provide equal opportunities for teaching all children in the class and allocating every child the same amount of time and effort. In addition, for example, even among children with autism, various degrees of severity can be observed – from low and medium to highly functional autism spectrum disorders.

If you mix a child with autism with developed oral speech with children with other forms of autism that are combined with intellectual and mental impairments, this will lead to a deterioration in the education of the first child. And what will happen if you mix a child with cerebral palsy, visually impaired or hard of hearing with a child with dyslexia and dyspraxia? Each requires an individual educational program, taking into account their different needs.

When will mainstream schools become inclusive?

For children with physical impairments, eduction at mainstream schools in the context of inclusion cannot present any obstacle, since their intellectual potential is in no way limited. The only obstacle for such children is the inadequacy of the school building and the negative stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes of the school management, teachers and parents of non-disabled children towards them.

Many children with physical impairments, due to the inability to attend ordinary schools, are forced to receive poor-quality education at home. The problem here is not in the physical condition of the child, but in the lack of an accessible environment and reasonable accommodation at mainstream schools.

After entering the universities on the basis of a 2% quota allocated by the state, students with I and II groups of disability encountered a number of barriers. Due to the lack of an accessible environment in the university buildings, separate academic groups were created for some disabled students. To prevent this problem, the draft decree provides for the creation of conditions for disabled students in educational buildings and student dormitories.

However, are similar requirements imposed on mainstream secondary schools? According to the law On the Social Protection of Disabled People in the Republic of Uzbekistan, “unimpeded access of disabled to social infrastructure, the use of public transport, communications and information” should be ensured. Aren’t mainstream secondary schools considered as objects of social infrastructure? Why, then, in violation of the law, conditions have not been created for disabled children in the newly built secondary schools in the Sergeli district of Tashkent city?

Specialised or inclusive education?

The draft decree envisages, on the one hand, the creation of separate classes in an experimental manner, and on the other, the strengthening of the material and technical base of specialised educational institutions. Specialised boarding schools for children with various forms of impairments on the principle of separating them from non-disabled children have remained a Soviet legacy And there are significant drawbacks to this segregated approach to education.

Firstly, the number of such boarding schools is limited and they cannot accept all disabled children across the country. For instance, children living in remote areas are forced to live away from their families in the dormitories of specialised boarding schools, located mainly in urban centres. No matter how well the educational process is delivered, living away from home can have a negative impact on the mental development and upbringing of children.

Secondly, the constant financial support of boarding schools from the state budgetary funds including the construction of new specialised schools and dormitories as well as the payment of surcharges to employees of special schools can lead to a sharp increase in costs. Creation of conditions for disabled children in secondary schools will save budgets and develop inclusive education at the expense of funds directed currently to special schools.

For example, there will be no need for specialised boarding schools if children with visual impairments are provided with textbooks based on Braille and special devices, and classes for them will be conducted by teachers with visual impairments with higher pedagogical education, which are currently facing discrimination based on disability during employment in secondary schools.

Lack of special resources and staff

The draft decree implies providing students of specialised educational institutions with textbooks at the required level, including those based on Braille for children with visual impairments. The shortage of special textbooks is a big problem, and to solve this it is planned to increase the production capacity of the printing enterprise of the Society of the Blind with the state support for the publication of specialised textbooks.

In accordance with the presidential decree “On measures to radically improve the system of state support for disabled people,” it was planned to create special courses for teaching sign language and Braille ​​in regional and district centres (based on needs) with the involvement of secondary schools in the specific areas. However, these measures have not yet been implemented. There is a shortage of professional sign language interpreters and sign language teachers across the country.

However, the draft decree does not include the creation of full-time tutor positions required for children with learning disabilities with additional educational needs (with autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Down syndrome, dyslexia and dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other types of learning disabilities). In general, Uzbekistan has not yet introduced a position of tutor neither in legislation nor in practice while pedagogical universities do not train tutors for children with various learning disabilities.

Why purely medical approach is bad?

As the draft resolution stipulates the main goal of the educational process is “directing efforts at a sufficient level to the correction of deviations/impairments”. Such terms as “corrective pedagogy” and “defectology” are often used in the draft decree, which are mainly aimed at treating children’s impairments in order to return them to a “normal” condition. From January 1, 2021, it is planned to include one full-time unit of doctor and nurse in the staff members of each specialised boarding school and conduct regular medical examinations, which also imply a medical approach.

But this approach is based only on the medical model of disability and suggests that the problem lies in the physical impairments of children. The medical model runs counter to inclusive education because it focuses not on the abilities and achievements of children, but on their physical conditions.

Following the medical model, many parents spend all their effort, attention and financial resources on medical treatment, recovery and bringing their child to a “normal” state through medical rehabilitation. But there are cases when medical rehabilitation of body functions is possible, and there are cases when it is already impossible. As a result, disabled children lag behind their peers in the educational process or are doomed to receive a poor-quality education at home.

Choosing a profession and providing decent work

When I talked with the parents of children studying in the specialised school No. 25 for children with speech disorders in Tashkent, they pointed to one big problem. The certificate of completion of the school where their children study differs considerably from the certificate of completion of a mainstream school and is a great obstacle to further professional education of children with special needs.

With such a certificate, they can neither enter college nor university using the 2% quota for applicants with disabilities. As a result, after the end of the 9-year education at the specialised school, they remain isolated in four walls of their houses. An aggravating factor is the recent closure of special vocational colleges for people with disabilities.

A document confirming the graduation of a child with a disability who has studied at home also differs from the usual certificate of graduation. In this document, the list of subjects and marks is limited, it does not contain some required subjects. As a result, children who study at home may encounter barriers when entering college, lyceum or university.

In addition, when studying at home, even with surcharges and compensation for travel expenses for teachers, there are many cases when home lessons are not held. This, in turn, leads to lagging behind and lack of necessary knowledge and skills among disabled children in the subsequent stages of their lives. Studying at home enhances the feeling of loneliness in disabled children and prevents them from developing the social skills they need, increasing the likelihood that in the future they will also be sitting at home isolated from society.

It should also be noted that in the Uzbek society, a certain attitude has been formed towards girls and women with disabilities. It has become absolutely customary that they are sent to vocational training mainly to learn how to become a seamstress or similar professions. At the expression “the profession of a disabled woman”, a sewing machine, an overlock and other attributes of a seamstress’s workplace immediately rise before our eyes. But imagine what a wide range of professional and livelihood opportunities girls with disabilities might have.

Legal framework and mechanisms for implementing inclusion

According to article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities signed by Uzbekistan in 2009 and still not ratified children with disabilities should “have, along with others, access to inclusive, high-quality and free primary education and secondary education in their places of residence”. This means that the right to inclusive education is recognised as one of the human rights, this is an international standard.

I believe that in Uzbekistan, the development of inclusive education serves the interests of the state, society and children with disabilities, as well as their parents. The educational process in schools, colleges, lyceums or higher educational institutions is not only about acquiring knowledge, but also communication, the formation of social skills and, as a result, familiarisation with social life. This is an important factor in changing the positive attitude of the whole society towards children and adults with disabilities.

One of the first significant steps in this area was the implementation of the project “Inclusive Education for Children with Special Needs in the Republic of Uzbekistan” in 2014–2016 by the Ministry of Public Education and the Republican Center for Social Adaptation of Children with financial support from the European Union. Under the project, children with milder forms of disabilities were moved to pilot secondary schools in 5 regions of Uzbekistan based on the principles of inclusive education.

The project conducted separate activities with teachers and parents in pilot resource centres. Unfortunately, despite the numerous successes of the project, its results are not sustainable, and the practice of transferring children with mild disabilities to mainstream secondary schools has been continuous. But a significant success of the project was the development of the first legal framework for inclusive education in Uzbekistan. On June 17, 2015, by an order of the Minister of Public Education, the regulation “On the procedure for transferring students with physical or mental disabilities from one specialized educational institution to another or to a general educational institution in an inclusive (integrated) education” was approved.

However, without clear mechanisms for implementing the provisions of regulatory legal acts into practice and without increasing awareness and active work with the public, with a high degree of probability decrees and regulations may only remain on paper. The draft resolution and the concept of development of inclusive education in Uzbekistan until 2030 should be finalised in close cooperation with parents of disabled children, their public organisations and disabled people’s organisations, taking into account the following recommendations.

What should be inclusive solutions?

Firstly, the law “On Education” should stipulate the rights of children with disabilities and their parents to study in inclusive conditions, as well as the procedures and clear mechanisms for the implementation of this right. This right should not be reflected in some kind of internal document adopted by the Ministry of Public Education – it should be incorporated into the basic laws through the speedy ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To date, 181 of the 193 UN member states, including all CIS countries, except Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have already ratified the Convention and brought national legislation into line with the norms and provisions of the Convention.

Secondly, mainstream schools according to the law “On the social protection of disabled people in the Republic of Uzbekistan” must equip their buildings with reasonable accommodation, based on the needs of children with disabilities. According to Article 9, “design and development of settlements, the formation of residential areas, the development of design solutions for new construction, reconstruction of buildings, structures and their complexes, as well as the development and production of vehicles, public communications and information without adaptation of these facilities for access disabled people are not allowed to use them. ” Creating conditions in new schools serves the interests of not only children but also teachers, parents and all members of a society with a disability.

Thirdly, it is necessary to train professional staff for the effective implementation of inclusive education. To teach children with various types of impairments and learning disabilities in general schools, it is necessary to train tutors and develop support services for them. Within general schools, support services should be organised which consist of social educators, psychologists, a sensory room and an inclusive education resource centre.

Inclusive education is not correction and rehabilitation in a specially opened separate classroom for disabled children. It is individual support services for children, based on their abilities, achievements and individual needs, as well as providing reasonable accommodation. The main obstacle for this is the lack of faith in the potential of children with special needs, which is a consequence of the stigma in the minds of many. But we must always remember: diversity enhances all aspects of human life.

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