The non-profit organization Rytmus, which focuses its work on education for children with mental and learning disabilities, has completed a year-long project which illustrated in practical terms what would need to be done for all students, no matter their mental, physical or social abilities, to be able to attend regular schools. Currently in the Czech Republic, many Roma children and most students with disabilities are relegated to so-called special schools.
RP spoke to Adam Gajdoš who coordinated the project based on a case study of a real Czech town, where kids were segregated into special and regular schools. It tried to see what kind of resources would be needed to have all the children go to the “regular” school. I started by asking Adam, how they selected the town.
“We want to find a town between 25 and 50 thousand inhabitants, which we could manage in one year, a town that would also have a special school, a town that would be 2-3 hours away from Prague, which is practical since we are a Prague-based NGO. So we found a town that would fit these criteria, and more importantly we found a school that was open to cooperating with us. The special school was crucial in make this project a reality.”
Did you include the expertise of teachers and school principals in your research?
“The original idea was that we would do our best to cooperate with the schools. Sadly, we did not find principals who were open to discussions with us. And those we were willing to provide data to us, did not see a way to actually contribute to the project. I think one of the problems was also that the municipality also did not express much interest in the project, which for our understanding of inclusion is crucial, because the idea of inclusion is based on strengthening the community. And the municipal authorities are its representatives. So, as soon as we understood that the leadership was not interested in what we are doing, it was difficult for us forge a pathway to the schools to speak to them about an issue which they don’t see as a priority.”
So, what were the main findings of the project?
“One of the outputs of the project is a functioning model of an existing town with real data, which you can look at and see what we mean when we say inclusion. This means schools that are well equipped, that have sufficient funding and personnel to make – what we think inclusion is about – a reality. We were interested in seeing whether it would be cheaper or more expensive in this particular instance.
“We found that, in this case study changes would mean an increase in funding. However, more than half of the necessary increase in the budget of the mainstream schools is already in the system and is being consumed by the special school. And this if often not taken into account. Everyone talks about it being expnsive, and there not being enough funds, and it is often not mentioned that there is some money in the schooling system that could be used. So we are trying to convey the message that we are thinking creatively about the resources that we have.”
Was there anything that surprised you during your research?
“Not that much was surprising. Of course, we were very eager to know what the balance would be at the end, and it was an interesting finding, because it is often suggested that inclusion reduced the cost of education, while our research suggests that the opposite is true.
“There was one surprise, however, which came at the very end, and it had to do actually with the way we perceived the whole case study. A colleague from the UK, with whom we consulted the results, made it clear to us that although we were creating a virtual inclusive environment, the model that we create did not completely stay true to the principles of inclusiveness, because it, in the end, perpetuated the expert approach. One of the basic conditions of inclusion is that the pupil who is being included, who is the focus, needs to have control over the process that is taking place, they need to have a voice. The parents need to be a part of the process as well. None of this was present in what we did.
“So, this does limit the model that we created, but it doesn’t mean that it is useless. It specifies that way that this resource should be used. Teachers and headmasters need to be aware that this is a stepping stone to their own venture. They should see this as an inspiration, but go beyond it as well.”
Another important group in this equation are parents – both parents of children who are excluded and those are not. Attempts by headmasters to combine, for example, schools with majority Roma students and those with majority non-Roma students, have often ended in fiascos, primarily because of the reactions of the parents who did not want their children to go to school with Roma kids. How can your model help to convince them?
“I am not sure that this study is a good resource for parents who have never thought of this before. I think in convincing parents without special needs, it is crucial that the headmaster is dedicated to the idea that the school should be looking at the social competencies of its students rather than focusing purely on knowledge. I think this is one of the core background problems. The Czech education system is mainly concerned with benchmarks and efficiency and teaching children a set of facts, rather than teaching them skills to use in their lives, their jobs and in their communities.
“This also has to do with the conception of the school as the center of the community. School in the Czech Republic today are very often isolated centers of expertise that are trying to survive in the wild waters of unstable financing and other problems. And, of course, their situation is difficult, but in order to inclusive education to be possible at all, it is necessary that the school tries to reach out to the parents and to other professionals – psychologists, social workers, etc. The school also needs to be supported by local municipal authorities to do this.”
More information on the results of the study can be found here: http://www.rytmus.org/inkluze/