Parents to Parents: Network holds forum to discuss children’s inclusive education in Armenia

At the third Parents to Parents Network forum dealing with inclusive education affairs parents of children needing special conditions for education expressed their satisfaction with the fact that their children have been offered an opportunity to receive education in general schools in equal conditions with their peers. But they also raised some issues that they consider important to solve to ensure their children’s better integration in society.

At the Tuesday event, the Bridge of Hope and Mission East organizations, with the participation of relevant state departments, disabled children and their parents, discussed and also summarized the results and problems of the program “Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities”.

Inclusive education in Armenia has been carried out since 2001 but only in a limited number of schools. The law “On the Education of Persons with Special Needs” came into effect in Armenia on September 1, 2005. According to the 2010 data, 60 inclusive schools function in Armenia, with a total of 1,455 children with special needs attending them.

Head of the Department of General Education of the Armenian Ministry of Education and Science Narine Hovhannisyan was pleased to mention that due to inclusive education only 23 of 52 special schools remain in Armenia today.

Anna Avetisyan, a 23-year-old university student, is one of the first to have benefited from inclusive education in Armenia. This summer she has completed her second year at the French University’s Department of Law and is proud to tell of her achievements. Avetisyan, who has locomotor problems, says that at first her mother would take her to and from school literally in her arms, then she started to walk to school with walking aids. She remembers that in the second grade she was eager to read as fluently as one of her classmates did and managed to do it after two hours of hard work.

The law student now believes that choosing to go to her current university and study law was the right choice for her.

“For who can better protect the rights of disabled people than people with disabilities themselves?” says Anna.

Gagik Aghababyan, the father of 17-year-old twin sisters Susanna and Ruzanna Aghababyans (they also have locomotor problems) attending school No. 2 in Noyemberyan, northeastern Armenia, remembers their joy common to all families when the twins were born.

“But one day we realized that our children had some problems, they were not like others and in many cases parents cannot cope with that God-given difference by themselves,” he says.

He raised the issue of continued education and employment of children who receive inclusive education at secondary schools.

“It is clear that due to inclusive education children feel equal at school. And what will be later, what should be after that? Because happily the child continues to live,” asks Aghababyan.

The same question has been raised by principal of Yerevan’s School No. 100 Arega Ohanyan. The school led by her is attended by 50 children with special educational needs, of whom six have graduated from middle school this year. According to Ohanyan, a majority of these children do not need to go to high school and it is necessary to organize their further education at least in colleges. The school principal says that those children and their parents keep asking them what they shall do after leaving school and she does not know what to answer.

Head of the Ministry’s Department of General Education Hovhannisyan says it is possible to organize inclusive education at two colleges in Yerevan and there are some employers who are willing to provide jobs to people with disabilities. Hovhannisyan, however, says that still a huge amount of work needs to be done in this sphere.