‘Every child is unique and their learning path differs. We’re all unique, including children. Some need more support and attention. This school provides it’, says Tiina Keskula, a parent of a child in Pärnu Kuninga Tänava Põhikool, Estonia.
Out of the school’s 55 teachers, 13 are special educators. Timetables consider the child’s abilities, skills and current emotional state. They receive their timetable, which is revised as needed. Time spent in class might change. Some subjects may call for additional support.
‘Cooperation with the parents is crucial. We can’t make decisions alone. We discuss all decisions regarding the child and their development beforehand. It’s vital for the child to feel they have a say in the matter. I believe the greatest gift that inclusion gives to our school is that pupils are truly tolerant. They accept variation and people who differ from them. I believe it makes everyone more empathetic’, said a teacher from the school.
‘We’re all different, yet we’re all the same’, Keskula, the parent, continued. ‘Some are in a wheelchair. So what? They children can only benefit from this as they see a multifaceted society.’
The regional edition of the GEM Report on Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia released this week in Russian, following its launch earlier in the year in English, with an executive summary produced in almost 30 regional languages, shows that, since 2010, Estonia has embraced an inclusive education approach in all schools, introducing the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act. A 2018 amendment to the Act has created opportunities for schools to organize learning based on individual needs and to put support systems in place. There have been four key changes. First, the education budget increased significantly. Teacher salaries rose and financial support to schools now covers enhanced and special support for students and employment of support specialists.
Second, more flexible opportunities to organize learning for each student were created. The rigid distribution of special classes and occupancy limits were abolished. Students needing support can study in a regular class, take part-time individual study or study in a special class or school. Third, procedures for organizing learning and support services were rearranged. Recommendations for these areas are provided by external advisory teams, available in each county at Pathfinder Centres, which offer a range of services from career counselling to special education guidance.
Finally, support specialists’ remuneration was increased. Operating expenses, paid from the state budget, can be used to cover labour costs for support specialists as long as they are guaranteed the equivalent of the minimum teacher salary. In addition, like teachers, support specialists working in a school for the first time can apply for a beginner’s allowance. Since 2017, the specialists’ average gross salary has increased by more than 30% and their number by 32%.
The kicker? Estonia is the new education powerhouse in Europe, despite high levels of poverty in the country, outperforming even Finland in the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2018. Inclusive education really can benefit everyone.
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