Second annual report of center Levania for 2016 – mid 2017
After finishing the first working period of 2014-2015 (the report is here), we held a cycle of open planning meetings and discussions with partners, colleagues, representatives of target groups. As a result, we elaborated activity plan for the following working cycle. Due to the scope of work it took us one and a half year to accomplish. The cycle ended in June 2017, so it is high time to sum up the results and to move further.
Therefore, for the period from January 2016 to June 2017 we defined several strategic priorities of our activities. Let us look them through.
Key Priority # 1 (at the level of educational services):
Development, promotion and support of inclusive practices in educational institutions.
Objective: Complete the inclusive education service pack, launch the experimental pilot sites, implementing a comprehensive, rights-based approach to learning and education in contemporary forms. Offer consultancy and inclusive education service, addressing requests from any level (municipal, local community, particular institution: school, university, club, theater, sports section and so on.)
In April-December, 2016 we fulfilled the project “Inclusive Service”. Actually, it was our flagman project, we considerably evolved on it, found great colleagues and partners, gained unique and meaningful experience. The problem we addressed was an absence in Belarus of complex, integral, practice-based approach to inclusive education as service that can to be ordered and provided.
The project had two levels: full-pack design and implementation of inclusive education model on the basis of mainstream school of Minsk and complex retraining of staff and other stakeholders: parents, tutors, teachers, educational psychologists and so forth.
The project resulted with the following figures: more than 200 people from 13 cities of Belarus completed professionally developed, almost academic, course of lectures and practical trainings. The lectures on various topics may be found in open access on our you-tube channel: principles, organizational, legal aspects of inclusive education, approaches, methods and techniques of effective inclusion of children with special educational needs, forms of families’ participation and involvement.
The course consisted of 2 steps: the first – for parents and tutors, the second – for experts: teachers, educational psychologists. More than 100 people attended each part.
The course led to a considerable shift – about 35 children with disability and development disorders for the first time went to schools. Parents, who attended the course, listened to our experts, found tutors, formulated rights-based demand and succeeded in admission of their children. Educational administrations, having no reasons to ignore such a high demand, met requirements of parents and ensured in their establishments the minimum of conditions necessary for education of children with special needs.
It is significant as well that we received many positive references from specialists who attended the course. They admitted that it changed their vision of opportunities and abilities of children with special needs, and generally their understanding of education, including inclusive one. Many have noted that training at our course has opened for them a new field of methods and techniques they plan to study and use further in their practice.
The second important effect was the actual demonstration that such activities are possible as a service in principle and they are feasible. After the training course we encountered an increased demand for similar seminars from various educational institutions. Thus, in December, 2016 Center Levania was invited to speak during republican educational and methodical association “Modern Technologies and Techniques of Education in the conditions of Inclusive Education”. We also took part in seminar “Inclusion in education” which gathered representatives of various educational institutions. We want to believe that this is a good start for the market of complex educational services.
Unfortunately, the main existing barriers remain, as usual, in people themselves. Due to rigid stereotypes fixed by out-of-date education, we almost fail to involve teachers (especially teachers of general subjects) into inclusive educational process. However, we learned to cope well with the fears of parents. The same range of stereotypes stimulates the Ministry of Education to support and protect time-worn practices and concepts in the field of education.
An important result of the project was the formation of even closer cooperation with the Institute of Inclusive Education (on the basis and with the active support of which the second step of the training service was conducted). We have excellent joint plans for the development of training programs for education specialists on modern methods and approaches in inclusive education.
Key Priority # 2 (at the level of educational services):
Creation of the center of competence and experience-sharing dealing with the issues of educational content, its modern forms and approaches. Promotion of mindfulness and embodiment practices among children, teachers and parents.
Objective: Launch an educational hub, aimed at studying and implementing innovative approaches and models in education. Integrate into international projects and experience-sharing networks. Deliver projects to integrate mindfulness and embodiment practices in educational institutions.
The problem that we address in this direction is that we quite successfully provide an inclusive component (and, most likely, best in the country), but at the same time we do not see around any normal, meaningful and modern educational processes. Even private schools and initiatives of non-formal sector cover only pieces of the puzzle, not meeting our criteria of qualitative and modern education. For this reason, we came to the development of our own educational project.
The networking, discussions and visits on this issue required considerable time and resources investments in 2016, and in 2017 it consumed almost all our available resources. In winter 2017 these activities resulted in the launch of ComCon III project . We conducted a number of educational events, joined the international network of educational projects Protopia Labs and Metaversity. Lectures and seminars are available on the project channel.
We can not yet say that we have achieved the objective. However, we reached absolutely inspiring challenges that erouse great enthusiasm.
Key Priority # 3 (at the level of society: national policy, legislation, culture and norms)
Promotion of the inclusive agenda into national educational policy, legislation and social practices.
Objective: Contribute to the development of national legislation in compliance with rights-based approach and practices.
At this level we worked with inclusive education agenda in the light of international law, in particular – UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (which Belarus signed in September, 2015, and ratified in the fall of 2016).
In spring of 2016 we carried out monitoring on the divergence of national educational legislation and practices with international obligations of Belarus, revealed violations of rights and interests of children with disabilities in sphere of education.
It resulted in our first monitoring report, which contributed to the Shadow report to UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities on a situation in the Republic of Belarus. The report was prepared by a coalition of NGOs under the initiative of the Office on the rights of persons with disabilities. It was publicly presented to international organizations and Belarusian civil society in May, 2016.
Having studied the recommendations of international organizations, as well as the world practice of organizing inclusive educational process, in the summer of 2016 we prepared a guide – “Inclusion Assessment Tool”, which we used while developing and implementing an educational model within the framework of Inclusive Service project.
In February 2017 Ministry of Education was opened to comments and proposals on the forthcoming new edition of the Code on Education. We used this opportunity and presented our remarks and suggestions. No need to specify that the dialog with parliament and ministry was not fruitful.
At some point, deepening into the resistance against inclusion at the level of schools and teachers, we came up to financial issues of educational system. As a result, we prepared an analytical paper on financial system of inclusive education with scenarios in budgeting national educational system. It reveals some really catching moments. Unfortunately, negative ones.
We joined the working group of civil society organizations dealing with various aspects of children’s rights protection. The group works with the administrative support of UNICEF. We could not come to an agreement on common plans and activities, and soon we left the group.
We continue our work on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The term for national report comes in autumn, and we currently work on shadow report.
Key Priority # 4 (at the level of the individual child and family):
Promotion of the innovative methods and practices of rehabilitation for children with neurological disorders; family support.
Objective: Develop and promote MoveTeam project. Launch the parent support club.
We gently love this direction. It lacks out time and resources, but gratifies with most notable and visible results.
Our flagman project in this branch is MoveTeam. It is the project uniting winter and summer sports, effective for rehabilitation and social integration of children with developmental disorders. In winter children exercise on skis and in swimming pool, in summer – on rollers, in gym and in swimming pool. In spring 2017 the chief trainer of the project launched new direction – yoga-in-air. Initially two instructors were involved to the project. By winter 2016-17 the project team has trained the third instructor and thus managed to increase to 30 the number of children taking part in the project.
In 2016, for the first time we managed to find support from local business to implement a long-cherished idea to expand the scope of the current version of MoveTeam. As a result, the subproject MegaStart was successfully fulfilled in winter-spring 2017. We invited sports coaches and everyone who wanted to try on competence requirements, risks and complexities of MoveTeam ski instructor. As a result, of almost 60 listeners, 10 participants successfully went through the project course. The course consisted of a week-long theoretical unit and a week-long practice unit of work with children on the mountain, in full real life conditions. Here is a report with pictures.
We are also working in the direction of rehabilitation through osteopathy. From February to April 2016, Minsk specialists ran osteopathic sessions for children with developmental disorders. It was a test version of the FreeDom project. Yet, we didn’t manage to make the project sustainable.
But in December 2016 we invited from Moscow an absolutely brilliant osteopathy master who worked with children and parents during 10 days. She visited Minsk again in the spring 2017.
Since October 2016, a psychological support group for parents of children with developmental disorders launched. The group works to find resources – inner and external – to develop parents’ capabilities through bodily-oriented exercises, art-therapeutic techniques, group and individual therapy at the request of participants. We have a lot of questions and difficulties in this place and, unfortunately, there is not much time left for them.
The reflection over this cycle of work occupied quite a lot of time. Yet, in winter we visited the retreat center and designed the image of center Levania in a horizon of 15 years. From mid August we are holding a number of planning meetings which are traditionally opened and welcome to anyone. If you are interested – please come and join us!