Access to Education for Children with Disabilities : A Moldova Study

Once diagnosed as having "special needs'; a Moldovan child has little chance of integrating into society. The education system provides a single option for this category of children — special schools, institutions that keep them away from their families but also the rest of the world. Parents who choose to enroll their children in schools in their communities have to confront many obstacles: the access to the institution, the directors' refusal to enroll them, a lack of special education programs and many more. According to the NGOs active in the domain of children's rights, about 90 percent of disabled children are deprived of the right to attend school.

A study conducted by the Motivation Association in three distrcts of Moldova reveal that more than half the respondents did not or do not have access to education, whether general or special. Yet this happens in a country where primary and secondary education is compulsory. Also, only 2 percent of disabled children say they have friends they communi­cate with. The others refer only to family members and relatives.

The number of children with disabilities who attend community schools numbers several hundred in the entire country. Home education, proposed by authorities for children with such problems, is a partial solution, specialists say. Staying home, these children are de­prived of communication, which is even more important than education. "The school is not only about gaining academic knowledge, it teaches us to live together, to cooperate, to find our way in life. School is a minimized model of society, in which the child learns to interact,"", says Viorica Cojocaru, director of the "Speranta" (Hope) Day Center. One of the reasons why disabled children do not attend schools is the resistance of the school directors. In spite of the fact that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children provides for special assistance and education for children with special needs, this interna­tional document is not an argument convincing enough for some school managers, who find a whole range of reasons to avoid enrolling a disabled child in a community school. The directors either advise parents to enroll their children in a boarding school, or suggest they resort to home education.

All over the world, children with special needs study together with the other children in so-called inclusive classes. According to a UNESCO definition, inclusive education is a type of education adjusted and individualized to fit the needs of all children within classes, bring­ing together children with different needs, capacities and competence levels. In Moldova inclusive classes are very rare. The few existing classes were opened with the insistence and efforts of parents, who wanted to offer their children a chance to integrate into society. The Ministry of Education admits that the process of organizing inclusive education is at its initial phases. Agnesa Eftodi, head of the Pre-School Education and General Education Division of the Ministry of Education, believes that the educational system of our country is not yet prepared, in terms of infrastructure and attitudes, for the proper implementation of inclusive education. "Although 70 percent of the teaching staff point out that there are chil­dren with disabilities in their schools, only half the teachers think that these children should study in community schools. At the same time, one in three students of the upper grades does not agree with the statement that children with disabilities should be able to attend their school", the Sociological Study "Basic Education in Moldova", conducted in 2008, shows.
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