Inclusive education in Armenia

According to the Statistical Service of Armenia, as of July 1, 2023, there were 9,000 children with disabilities in the country. The Armenian National Assembly adopted a series of amendments to the law “On General Education” on December 1, 2014. The amendments envisage a transition to universal inclusive education in the general education system by August 1, 2025.

In response to a written request, the Armenian Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports said: “Currently, all schools in the Republic of Armenia are implementing inclusive education.”

However, a number of parents and teachers state that inclusive education in Armenia has failed. They argue that children with disabilities, including those in inclusive public schools, often do not receive a quality education on an equal basis with other students. In particular, the lack of reasonable accommodations, including basic infrastructure and transportation accessibility, insufficient number of trained staff, individualized approach to children’s education and lack of awareness prevent many children with disabilities from receiving a quality education.

“There is an idea of inclusive education in Armenia, but unfortunately, the content is empty and deceptive,” teacher Shoghik Yesayan told the Weekly.

Yesayan has worked in a school in Yerevan for more than 30 years. In a recent class, a boy with autism was not accepted by his classmates or their parents. “For four years, I was always by that child’s side. Even some parents complained that I paid more attention to that child than the rest, but it could not be otherwise,” Yesayan said.

Yesayan’s school long ago switched to inclusive education, but the reality is completely different. She works with a disabled child at her workplace, but she still does not know what the child’s disability is, because the parent is too ashamed to admit it. The school has not taken any steps to involve the child, and the child does not want to go to school.

Yesayan told the parent that they should contact the “Regional Pedagogical-Psychological Support Center” to work with the child, but they refused.

The “Regional Pedagogical-Psychological Center” was established as a result of the reorganization of the “Yerevan Center for Medical-Psychological-Pedagogical Assessment” SNCO in 2017 by Armenian government․ The center systematizes the process of providing special education to children and provides consultations. The center conducts needs assessments, helps prepare and implement individual training plans and the organization of educational support services, and, if necessary, reviews the results. 

In accordance with the procedure for providing pedagogical-psychological support services, students’ education and relevant support services are organized by an Individual Education Plan (IEP). However, according to Yesayan, these papers are not properly filled out in any school. 

Anna Aleksanyan, a psychologist at Artimet Secondary School, believes that the attitude towards people with disabilities has changed positively from 10-15 years ago. Two children benefit from inclusive education at her school, one of whom has cerebral palsy. Aleksanyan told the Weekly that the children and their parents treat the two students well and help them. 

The psychologist argued the child’s attitude toward their disability is important. “The idea of universal inclusion lies in the fact that people with disabilities have full rights like everyone else, to be accepted by society, and in order to achieve this, it should be instilled in the child from a very young age,” Aleksanyan said.

Aleksanyan considers the lack of members on a multidisciplinary team formed to support the students to be a problem. “The role of a speech therapist is very important. We have children in the school who, although they are not beneficiaries of inclusive education, have communication problems. It would be very beneficial if a specialist were available in the school to provide assistance,” Aleksanyan said.

Anna Aleksanyan

The position of the teacher’s assistant is one of the components of the transition to universal inclusive education. “Teacher’s assistants help children during classroom work. Their role is also important, but if a child needs a speech therapist or has difficulty reading, what should a teacher’s assistant do?” Aleksanyan wondered.

She believes that it is necessary to involve parents from the beginning, so they can foster tolerant children. “If a mature person does not accept, how will a child accept?” she posed.

According to information provided by the Ministry, since February of this year, the “Regional Pedagogical-Psychological Center” has launched a series of parenting skills development courses aimed at developing knowledge and skills regarding positive parenting, sharing positive parenting experiences and creating an atmosphere of mutual assistance. It also provides an opportunity for parents of children with special needs to overcome the problems and difficulties they may face.

Agapi Yeghiazaryan, the parent of a 14-year-old son with an intellectual disability, says that he does not receive adequate professional support at school. She has difficulty getting the child dressed and taking him to school, because during that time her son often becomes aggressive. Yeghiazaryan takes him to school two-three days a week for only 40 minutes. For a year, she has also been taking her son to a development center.

Separate specialists work with him at school, but Yeghiazaryan is not satisfied with their activities. “Once my daughter came and said, ‘Mom, I went to look at my brother from the window. I saw that he was sleeping, and the specialists were talking,’” Yeghazaryan shared with sadness. When the specialist was asked to clarify, he replied that they had been discussing the lesson. The next day, the sister could not watch her brother, because the specialists closed the curtains.

“When I took my child to school, it was difficult to get out of the crowd of children, because my son doesn’t walk easily,” Yeghazaryan said.

There are examples of progress toward inclusivity in Armenia. For 10 years now, the NGO “We Can” has been contributing to increasing employment opportunities for young people with intellectual disabilities, forming a positive attitude in society and protecting the interests of children and their families through seminars, meetings, legal and psychological consultations, campaigns and mass media.

“We Can” has created three educational and developmental web applications, which are intended for people requiring special education, in particular in reading and writing. These web applications are approved by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports as teaching aids and can be used in schools, NGOs, educational institutions and at home.

“When we work in schools and present the effects of alternative methods in organizing the education of people with intellectual disabilities, I present my son’s experience,” said “We Can” NGO director Armine Sahakyan.

Sahakyan said that very often a child’s abilities do not coincide with the parents’ and teachers’ expectations. “For example, as a parent, I always dreamed that my son would write his name at the end of the first grade. Then I pushed it to the end of the 4th grade, and then before he finished school. But I had no idea that this was not what he needed,” Sahakyan said.

Armine Sahakyan

“He has other strong points: visual memory, verbal speech. When he said to look at the face of the word, the specialists working with him and I just thought that it was a problem. Years later, we realized that he sees words through images. If you show him the same word several times and tell him which word it is, he will remember it and read it when he sees it somewhere else,” Sahakyan said.

Sahakyan’s son Hrachya is now 26 years old, but she considers his days in school as days of success.

“His teacher did not have much experience working with a student with an intellectual disability, but she knew that he was a child who should receive an education. Taking that as a basis, she was able to find methods and solutions, and sometimes they found them together,” Sahakyan said.

Hrachya suffered many disappointments through his time at school. However, Sahakyan realized one thing: everyone goes to school, and her son must go too.

“The chemistry teacher organized a volcano burning experiment for Hrachya in her laboratory. Hrachya remembers it all his life. I myself studied in one of the best schools, but I had never seen a chemistry experiment. Now who has more knowledge of chemistry, me or Hrach?” Sahakyan said with a smile.

Sahakyan becomes emotional when she hears derogatory words addressed to children with special needs. 

“Yes, we still have a lot to do in terms of inclusive education, starting with the accessibility of schools and equipping them with material and technical resources. But I don’t accept that it was not necessary for my son to go to a school with an inclusive education,” Sahakyan said. 

Anna Harutyunyan

Anna Harutyunyan

Anna Harutyunyan is a freelance journalist from Yerevan. She is currently studying at the Department of Journalism at the Armenian State Pedagogical University. Anna has successfully completed the one-year educational program at "Hetq Media Factory."

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