Achieving the general basis for educational inclusion is an ongoing process in several countries in the western Balkans.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade --05/07/12
Learning should be equal for all children, according to the premise of educational inclusion. [Reuters]
As the majority of the countries in the region have their sights set on EU membership, the issue of inclusive education is one that needs to be addressed, regional analysts said.
The premise of inclusive education -- the equal opportunity for children to receive quality education regardless of gender, nationality, religion, socio-economic background, psychophysical capacity and health -- was first seen in the Balkan region in the early 1990s.
"There is a lot of work in this area, for all of us. We still need to develop different types of services and forms of education," Vesna Zlatarovic, project co-ordinator at the Centre for Interactive Pedagogy of Belgrade, told SETimes.
In 2008, the region's education ministers signed an agreement that stated that quality, diversity and fair access to education, innovation in education and intercultural education in the state institutions were key prerequisites for the region's sustainable development and EU integration.
Regional co-operation on inclusive education is important, since there is a need for experience exchange. Although there are significant efforts, inclusion in education in the West Balkans is still beginning.
"We are in the process of preparation of a joint project between Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia with EU support, which will be focused on educational inclusion issues," Natasa Milojevic, psychologist and co-ordinator for programme activities at the Serbian NGO VelikiMali, told SETimes.
Montenegro started work on inclusion in education in the late 1990s, and it is implementing it according to European laws, praxis and principles.
"Education of children with special educational needs is part of a unified education system and public interest. It strives to provide equal opportunities of education for all children, in conditions that enable optimal development ... with the provision of appropriate educational technology and assistance to children with special educational needs," Tamara Milic, senior adviser for SEN students at the Montenegrin Education Ministry, told SETimes.
In neigbouring Serbia, work on educational inclusion started in 2001, at the initiative of the NGO sector. Efforts have been intensified for Roma children and to support teachers and parents of special needs children.
In 2009, Serbia's legal framework helped it become a regional leader in educational law regulation.
"The success of inclusive education depends on the commitment and attitude of the whole community and the compliance between law, education, social welfare and health, intersectoral collaboration and co-ordination," Borislava Maksimovic, co-ordinator for Inclusive Education at Ministry of Education and Science of Serbia, told SETimes.
Nevenka Djokic, director of the School of Applied Arts in Sabac, western Serbia, gave an example of two students who were placed in specialised primary schools, but they joined to their peers in the regular secondary school for arts and crafts as part of the joint inclusion programme. SETimes is not using the students' names.
"Both are great students, became a part of classes, got friends and became active in extracurricular activities," Djokic told SETimes. "It was a challenge for all teachers, because these students needa special way of teaching which must be realised through the individual education plan."
When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, barriers to educational inclusion are extremely expensive to overcome, and the fragmented structure of the education system is hard to navigate.
Access to education for some of the most vulnerable groups -- Roma, children from remote areas and girls -- is a particularly outstanding issue. The integration of students from diverse ethnic groups is necessary and they need access to culturally acceptable and relevant education regardless of their geographical position in the state.