“The right to inclusive education includes the transformation of culture, politics, and practice in all formal and non-formal educational environments in order to adapt to the different requirements and identities of individual students, together with the determination to remove barriers that impede this possibility. This also includes the strengthening of the capacity of the educational system in order to reach all students.”
(Extract from the General Comments on Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: the right to inclusive education).
Messages and recommendations based on the experiences of teachers and representatives of the schools that participated in the project Quality Inclusive Practices marked the completion of the project.
The Director of the primary school Ivan Gundulić in Mostar, Marija Jurčić, said, “Every child needs to be appreciated, respected and understood within their cultural identity, religious, ethnic or any other belonging. They need to be listened to, understood and most importantly they should be loved.”
This was a process on which UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina had worked for the past four years and very intensively over the last two years. The project was part of the wider UNICEF initiative ‘Protecting Children from Violence and Promoting Social Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in the Western Balkans and Turkey’, funded by the European Union. Four years may seem a long time and the process and its activities were definitely demanding and intense yet the results are worthy of the time and effort invested. Inclusive practices became inspiring practices and demonstrated the value and importance of choice, namely the choice to become an inclusive teacher and work in an inclusive school.
The project adopted a modular approach to trainings developed by UNICEF for the countries of the region. Based on certain criteria and recognised positive practices and experiences related to inclusive education, schools models were applied in ten selected primary schools across the whole country. These schools worked on the development of inclusive practices focused on the care of children in the educational system.
Regional modules were implemented. The first comprised of a series of 3 three-day trainings with international experts from the University of Zurich, Professor Judith Hollenweger and Professor Paula Haunt, from October 2016 to June 2017. Following that, a ‘localised’ phase of workshops and trainings was implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
All this resulted in the Handbook titled ‘Quality Inclusive Practices’. The handbook covers four topics – modules: ‘Partnership with Family’, ‘Peer Support’, ‘Introduction to Differential Teaching and Mathematical Concepts of Numicon’, and ‘Guidelines for the Application of Inclusive Teaching Practices’. Yet perhaps the most important result was the change in practice in line with the principles and standards of inclusive education, which demonstrates the high level of understanding of the inclusion process. All ten selected schools offered excellent examples of the results achieved.
Sanda Bilokapa, a third grade teacher of mathematics from the primary school Fra Lovro Karaula in Livno, was concerned initially about how her classes would run along with Numicon and she admitted that at first the work did not go in the direction she had hoped. Yet as she presented the methods she used when her class had to learn and understand fractions with the support of Numicon she described the results, “over time, we achieved unbelievably good results that we could not even imagine when having ordinary classes.”
Armando Cavalić and Emir Šaldić, teaching staff from the primary school Vladimir Nazor in Odžak, mirrored her enthusiasm. They shared the great experience of their colleague and emphasised the value of Numicon for teaching mathematical concepts in their school. Armando, a class teacher who designed ‘Who will be the first to multiply and come to the goal’, said, “There is no better evidence of the greatness of this method than the joy of children entering the class and cheerfully concluding that the upcoming class will be fun because of Numicon.” She added, “Numicon saved the supplementary education I teach.”
Sanja Džodžo, a teacher from the primary school Branko Radičević in Banjaluka emphasised the value of peer support or more specifically the friendship circles that helped her classes become much better by citing the case of a boy named Andrija who received support in the form of the group ‘Andrija and Friends’. The group, which consisted of several pupils, was charged with correcting his behaviour through discourse and suggestions, both inside and outside of class. The example of Andrija showed the teacher the effectiveness of this method and the teacher already has plans to animate a new circle of friendships groups for more pupils.
Enis Dedić, an IT teacher from the primary school Tinja in Srebrenik, said that their school went a step further by modifying the existing modules and recommendations in order to form a partnership between school and family. The school decided to extend the initially desired circle of friendship to include parents within the created system. “The whole community joined and we organised a circle of friends as a kind of exchange: the children visited each other and the entire family joined the process. There were also bazaars where children exhibited and sold their handicrafts for the purpose of helping.”
Parents of pupils at the primary School Mehmedalija Mak Dizdar in Goražde joined the magical module ‘Partnership with Family’ and the results proved far more comprehensive and complex than other joint excursions of parents, children and teachers. The module made a major contribution to the organisation of the school fence and yard in one of the regional schools. This community inspired the formation of the Club for Children and Parents, which supports cooperation with the health centre in Goražde and works in particular on strengthening the activities of parents registered for the Family Strengthening Programme of SOS Kinderdorf Goražde. The results of these joint efforts were more than inspiring and helped the fourth grade Parent Teacher Association to achieve a 100 per cent response among parents.
Schools from Mostar have shown that thanks to differentiated learning children can successfully imagine, design, create, forecast, plan and complete any activity they imagine. At the end, the children also wrote and played a game on the given topic. Teachers from Mostar said that adaptive classes were realised through the required reading class and that they proved to be extremely successful.
Fahrudin Bičo from the Second Primary School in Sarajevo illustrated the extreme importance of inclusive teaching for everyone when he read a song that a pupil wrote about his friend Vuk and how they can always rely on each other. Fahrudin’s performance made many people in the audience cry. At the same time, it provided new motivation and increased commitment to continue with this kind of teaching.
“It is not unusual for our workshops that we see children from the first, fourth and ninth grades working together. On Fridays, we make a plan of activities and the topic for workshops for the next week. The only criterion on which pupils are to attend is to have an interest in a particular topic. So, in the workshops, apart from pupils from different grades and classes, teachers also participate and you can also find parents, for whom the majority of the activities are also open. In this general diversity, inclusion comes in itself and every difference is simply deleted.”
Seada Kuštirić, the Director of the Fourth Primary School in Mostar, stated that this is one of many successful practices applied by the school.
Anka Izetbegović, Executive Director of the association ‘DUGA’, said, “This story that we implemented together with UNICEF is different because it is based on a broad spectrum of human rights. For several months, we have been hanging out with Judith and Paula. Then everything seemed like a theory that does not have a connection with practice, but we were persistent and waited for the moment to ‘articulate’ and touch on the practices that we did in this second phase of the project.” She added, “DUGA thinks about children and their needs in a different way. We think that in life there are many more important things than school achievements and what is offered by school content and that we can be happy because of other circumstances, some other values. One of them, of course, is the feeling of belonging to a group of peers.”