Towards Inclusion: SCF UK's Experience in Integrated Education

Case Study - Vietnam
Integrated Education in Vietnam

SCF in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam, supports the integration of children with special needs, mainly with mental and physical disabilities, into local government kindergartens. The support started in January 1994, to one kindergarten in one district, and now after eighteen months extends to four kindergartens in two districts of HCMC. Twenty-six children with special needs are currently enroled in kindergartens, with a total of 33 children having benefited since the start of the programme.

Education for Children with Special Needs in Vietnam
Both special schools and integrated education (IE) exist, with the picture of provision in the north very different from the south. In the north, the main thrust of provision is towards integration, whereas in the south most provision is in special schools.

There are approximately 80 special schools in the country, mainly in urban areas. In HCMC there are 17, catering for over 1100 children with learning, sensory and physical impairments, and administered by a variety of bodies, with HCMC Department of Education (DoE) being responsible for only one. Children are accepted from age six onwards. In an attempt to establish some kind of co-ordination, the DoE established the Centre for Research & Education for Disabled Children (CREDC), with responsibility for liaison and training for special schools in HCMC, whatever their governing body. There is no Special Education Department.

In Vietnam there is currently no national policy on the education of children with special needs. The National Institute for Educational Science (NIES) supports pilot programmes in a number of provinces, to integrate mildly disabled children into mainstream primary schools, and their statistics show that 9334 disabled children are integrated in 4,601 mainstream primary classes.

In 1993, there was one pilot integration project in HCMC, to integrate blind children into a mainstream primary school. It is, however, common to find children with mild disabilities being educated in primary schools, especially where no alternative is available.

Vietnam was the second country in the world to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in 1991, drew up a seven point National Action Plan. The Committee for the Care and Protection of Children (CCPC) has the mandate to monitor progress and implementation of the Plan.

Pre-Primary Provision
Regular health screening for the under five year-olds is carried out by Ward level health clinics, at which clearly observable impairments may be identified. Even where specialised services exist (mainly in urban areas) however, most children who are identified as disabled receive little or no follow-up services. The exception is for physical disabilities, where rehabilitation is avai lable in all provincial hospitals, and via the national CBR programme, implemented mainly in rural areas.

HCMC Kindergarten Section has no policy on the education of disabled pupils. Prior to enrolment, children are required to have a medical check-up to certify they are in good health, which can be used as an excuse to refuse admission to a disabled child. Teachers main concerns are:

Nevertheless many disabled children are accepted unofficially, but schools tend to hide the fact.

Community-based Rehabilitation (CBR)
CBR is an official programme in Vietnam co-ordinated at National level under the Ministry of Health. Since 1986, CBR programmes have been started in 300 communes in 11 provinces, and are reported to provide a good service for children with physical disabilities, there has been limited benefit so far, however, for those with sensory impairments, learning or communication problems.

Description of IE in District 11, HCMC
In 1993, two seminars were organised by HCMC DoE with support from SCF, to demonstrate the UNESCO 'Special Needs in the Classroom' Teacher Education Resource Pack 2. One important outcome of the seminars was the recognition by several District Education Service (DES) officials that integration already existed in their own schools, and that this was something to be proud of. SCF was subsequently given permission to contact directly with the DES's.

At that time, one kindergarten in District 11, Skylark 9, had two children with special needs, and the District 11 DES asked for support from SCF to develop this integration project further. The first step was to raise awareness among the local community through meetings, inviting parents, local Ward and District cadres, and Headteachers from all 17 kindergartens in the District. Over the next few months, several more children with special needs - mostly learning or physical difficulties - were enrolled at Skylark 9, making six in total. They were referred either by other kindergartens, or by CREDC. The class teachers, with no specialist training, were enthusiastic and loved the children, especially when they saw improvements in their behaviour and sociability. But they also encountered many problems, even with on-the-job support from a (Vietnamese) psychologist. There was clearly a need for specialised training.

Two workshops on early intervention, organised at CREDC, were instrumental in focusing attention on the needs of pre-school disabled children, and in building more positive attitudes among teachers and parents.

A short in-service training was also organised by the DES in July 1994, for teachers, parents, local officials, and teachers from other kindergartens, with a view to expanding to other schools. This training ensured the support and understanding of local officials, and increased the confidence of teachers and parents in teaching and bringing up their disabled children. Demand for places at the school increased dramatically after a newspaper article about the programme, so integration was extended to two more kindergartens in the District. During 1994-5, a further 21 children with special educational needs, aged between three and eight, w ere accepted altogether. Now, as the teachers gain more experience with the children, they begin to see more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of their programme, and to identify what improvements and further training they need.

SCF support has taken the forms of:

SCF is, however, only one source of support for District 11. A psychologist from CREDC supports teachers in the area of assessment and programme planning, physiotherapists from Children's Hospital No1, a paediatrician and a skin specialist support as needed, largely on a voluntary basis.

All pupils have made progress in learning, although some more than others. The main progress has been made in sociability - accepting the school routine, joining in group activities, and playing with friends, and in self-help skills, such as using the toilet and eating independently. Two children went on to primary school in 1994, four more will do so in September 1995.

Parents of the disabled children have gained confidence, and become more realistic, firstly in seeing their child accepted at school like any other child (sometimes after being refused by several other schools already), and also by having the opportunity to exchange ideas with the class-teacher and with other parents. Parents' Group meetings have now started, with a discussion topic decided by the parents, such as `How can I refuse when my child demands money for snacks?'. Interestingly, these meetings have also been joined by parents of non-disabled children, indicating that the issues raised are problems of children, not just of disabled children! Other parents of disabled children not at Skylark 9 have asked to join the meetings, which has prompted a search for how the group can continue independently of the school.

Visits to the schools by education officials - from the DoE, and from other Districts, have contributed to influencing attitudes. In 1994, HCMC DoE issued a circular, which helped clarify policy on integration in mainstream schools, thus freeing teachers from the fear of criticism. Schools in other Districts have recognised that they are already doing, or could do the same thing, and have requested support in developing integration.

After less than two years, it would be premature to judge the potential sustainability of the programme. It is still very much dependent on the enthusiasm of a few key individuals, and therefore vulnerable to staff changes.

By deliberately working within the formal education system, we recognise that change in practice is slow: decision and policy-making is on the one hand centralised and top-down, yet on the other hand at local level, practical implementation requires the understanding and approval of a network of government and mass organisation cadres. But the long-term potential for expansion within the education system makes it a worthwhile investment of time.

New ideas can only be introduced gradually. The current climate of rapid change in Vietnam is causing uncertainty in the education sector, which recognises the need for revision of the present curriculum and approaches. There is still strict control, however, over training introduced by foreigners, because of anxiety about possible infiltration of political ideas into curriculum materials.

In their enthusiasm and lack of experience, schools accepted children of a wide range of age and ability. For some children, the amount of attention needed from the teacher has outweighed the limited progress they have made, and the teachers now recognise that integration is not appropriate for all children. With forty or more other children in the class, and one assistant, they need to be more realistic about which children they can and cannot accept.

The needs of a large number of disabled children are still not being met: insufficient places are available, some children are too severely disabled to benefit from integration, and yet others are not identified early enough. Questions are now being asked about what can be done for those still at home.

Kindergartens are a limited solution to early intervention; they are catering for a falling number of children - currently 37%1 nationally, with major discrepancies between urban and rural areas.

The question of what happens to children after they leave kindergarten has yet to be seriously addressed. Some can continue to primary school, some with little or no extra support, others who will continue to need extra help. For many children with special needs, however, the current primary curriculum is unsuitable, and consideration needs to be given to more appropriate alternatives.

Key Factors
The starting point for the programme was the school's own initiative. Thus the problem of who 'owns' and controls the programme - the local or the foreign supporting agency - has never arisen.

The initiative originated in the mainstream school, rather than coming from the special school sector. This has meant that the school took responsibility for the disabled children from the moment they accepted them, seeking support from outside when they needed it, but not leaving the job for the specialists.

The in-service training served to build on the existing skills of teachers and parents, to reinforce and give a framework to methods they had found successful. It encouraged problem-solving approaches to difficulties, drawing on the experience of both parents teachers. A variety of participants have been involved apart from teachers, including parents, disabled people, physiotherapists, representatives from mass organisations such as Red Cross, CCPC, Youth Union etc., which has encouraged the dissemination of information about the programme, and encouraged networking at the local level.

Children with special needs are taught according to the existing kindergarten curriculum as far as possible, with additional individual teaching targets if necessary, especially in the areas of self-help skills.

The kindergarten curriculum is based on early child development principles, with an emphasis on learning through play, hence more flexible than the primary curriculum, an d easier to adapt for children with learning difficulties. The support from the beginning of the higher authorities, ie. HCMC, DoE and the District 11 People's Committee, has been crucial in enabling the programme to develop.

Several newspaper articles have contributed to increased public awareness about the programme, among parents interested in enrolling their children, local people offering donations, and a visit from a group of foreign teachers, thus raising the confidence of the teachers in what they were doing.

Relationship with CBR
Vietnam's national CBR programme does not extend to HCMC. IE could potentially be a starting point for community-based activities, although the one attempt to set up an early intervention team foundered, for several reasons: changes in staff, a lack of a clear focus, or poor support from Ward level. At the time, it fulfilled a useful but limited function of identification and referral for three children.

A new programme of 'Care in the community for disabled children' has been started by the CCPC and People's Committee of Ward 21, Binh Thanh District. After researching the main needs of the disabled children and their families in the Ward, it was recognised that access to a mainstream school is an important part of integrating disabled children into a full life in the community. The People's Committee have mobilised the co-operation of local primary and kindergarten schools to accept several disabled children.

Current developments
After visiting Skylark 9, a kindergarten in another District, Binh Thanh, has requested SCF's support in the form of information, advice and materials for a child with learning difficulties. They have since accepted two more children with learning difficulties.

Interest has been shown on the part of HCMC Kindergarten Section to co-ordinate the programme at the City level.

The Parents' Group could be a strong source of support, information and lobbying in the District, especially if it could develop independently of the school.

We gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions of Mrs Nguyen Thi Chau, Vice Permanent President, Committee for the Care and Protection of Children, Ho Chi Minh City.

Save the Children



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