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Education for all

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Interview: Meeting disabled students’ needs

My friend Katharina at the head of the line

During the Global Media Forum (GMF), I met the students Hendrik and Isabelle who go to a school for physically impaired students. They participated in an exchange program between their school and a Tunisian school. Right now, Germany is talking a lot about the issue of education for the disabled because two years ago the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities went into effect – including in Germany. It stipulates that disabled children should attend so-called regular schools and should no longer be left out on the basis of their handicaps. As it stands now, the non-disabled have little contact with disabled students. Personally, I just have contact to an uncle of mine, who attended a regular school years ago, but today lives in a facility for the disabled and works in a factory with other workers with handicaps. My friend Katharina also gives me some insight into the daily lives of people with disabilities. She is preparing to become a teacher specialized in working with the disabled. So she was exactly the right person to talk to on the topic of educating the disabled in Germany.

Katharina, during the GMF a Tunisian teacher said that mentally-handicapped children have disadvantages when they go to a regular school instead of a special school for children with handicaps. What do you think about this statement?

Actually, I think she’s right. In my class, I had two children with Down syndrome. They came to our school after finishing fourth grade at a regular elementary school. Both have learned, for instance, the technique of reading, but they don’t understand what they read. They’re too preoccupied with the process itself. The same happens when they do arithmetic: They haven’t acquired the basics.

Do you think that would be different if they had gone to a school for handicapped children earlier?

Probably. Because we aim at teaching each child individually. The whole class works on one topic, but each child works according to his competencies. If we notice that a child doesn’t have the basics of math down, we don’t teach him more advanced topics because it isn’t relevant at his development stage. At normal schools, in contrast, certain basics and development stages are taken for granted. There, teachers don’t have the time to concentrate on a handicapped child and teach him according to his needs.

What kinds of basics do you teach children before they can move on to more advanced mathematical techniques?

What is important is recognizing patterns and rules. We work very playfully. Our students, e.g., thread pearls on a string in a given order. At first the aim is that they recognize that the colors of the pearls follow a certain pattern: A yellow pearl is always followed by a red one which is followed by a blue one and so on. Later on students will be able to recognize succession patterns of numbers.

You work only with handicapped children at your school. But according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, children with and without handicaps are to be taught together in the future. Do you think this a good decision?

Inclusion should be the watch word for school activities

Generally, this decision is overdue. In Germany, persons without disabilities don’t really know about the lives of handicapped persons. But they are part of our society! For several centuries, our state has excluded them partly by establishing special institutions for the handicapped: kindergartens, schools, workshops and so forth. When that’s done just to make sure we don’t come in contact with persons with disabilities, I think that’s wrong.

Do you think German politicians are taking the right steps to realize the convention’s aims?

It is good that they have recognized the need to change something. Yet, no additional money is invested into education, but we would need this money in order to make individual support of children possible. Often schools don’t have enough means to work with given children individually – particularly, at regular schools. Behind all of the political reforms that have been started, I don’t see any real strategy.

What is needed to support children with disabilities at regular schools?

First, smaller classes are needed! 15 students would be perfect. Research shows that all children profit from smaller groups. Additionally, more personnel is necessary, especially if we want to include children with disabilities in regular classes. In addition to a regular schoolteacher and a teacher trained to work with children with disabilities, an additional expert on relevant pedagogical issues is needed. With smaller classes and more personnel, inclusion would no longer be questioned but taken for granted. We should enable everybody to study according to his abilities. Our whole society has been called upon to realize integration. In schools, integration has just been started. But we have to fully accept persons with disabilities in our society, also outside of our classrooms.

Date

July 4, 2012 | 12:56 pm

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  • A good interview!
    The topic under discussion still remains silent in some countries, though there are often brilliant writers, economists and sportsmen among the handicapped who have less opportunity to be known. Of course, they can find their audience in the Internet – but the result sometimes is silly – they are more famous among people from other countries, but not in their own ones!
    Talking about wheelchairs, for example: seeing none of them at streets doesn’t mean there are no users of wheelchairs; it may mean poor infrastructure in a city.
    However, the situation seems to be changed within several years.

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