The role of people with disabilities in teacher training in Iraq

Karen Chesterton Khayat

The development of inclusive education should always be built on a foundation of participation by all key stakeholders - children, parents, teachers, decision-makers, donors, and of course representatives of marginalised groups. A vital way of ensuring teachers are better prepared to support children with disabilities in their regular classes is to ensure that they have practical experience of working with children and adults with disabilities, and that the training they receive has been guided by the perspectives of people with disabilities. Here, Karen looks at initiatives in Iraq to achieve this.

In the north of Iraq (in the three governorates of Sulaimany, Dohuk and Erbil in Kurdistan) the Ministry of Education developed courses for Ministry- employed teachers and awareness-raising sessions for education leaders. The courses provide an 'introduction to inclusive education' for in-service teachers who want to support children with disabilities in schools. The training was initially delivered through training-of-trainers courses, and is now provided regularly to teachers. The courses are sometimes funded by UNICEF and sometimes by the Ministry.

Within the courses, adults with hearing impairments and with visual impairments have shared their personal education stories, helping training participants to understand the role education has played in their lives. They have demonstrated assistive resources and tools, as well as techniques used for daily living with one or more impairment. Adults who are deaf have been engaged in the courses to teach basic sign language to teachers, using lists of words the teachers want to learn, and also demonstrating visual storytelling.

At awareness seminars for school principals, education officials and decision-makers, people with disabilities have been included as participants to bring their perspectives on inclusion into the discussions, and to share personal accounts of education. Parents of children with disabilities have also participated through question and answer panel sessions. Disability rights advocates have contributed to the training as guest lecturers, providing detailed theoretical and practical information, and delivering hard-hitting messages on combatting discrimination.

Course feedback has indicated that the active participation of people with disabilities in the training courses has helped teachers to see people with disabilities as partners in upholding the rights of children in their classes, rather than as passive recipients of charitable services.

Contributors to the courses have mostly been identified through local disabled people's organisations (DPOs). The training activities have helped to initiate or reinforce co-operation between DPOs and the inclusive education programme. Although in some countries not all DPOs have the capacity to support teacher training, it is crucial to learn from and build upon efforts, in order to ensure that both community members and professionals with disabilities play a role in designing and delivering training on inclusion and equality.

Deaf teachers demonstrating sign language and hearing teachers practising it

Deaf teachers demonstrating sign language
and hearing teachers practising it

A consultant helped the Ministry of Education to design the courses and run the initial training and awareness activities. The Ministry also formed a committee for the awareness seminars, made up of education and DPO representatives. The DPO personnel represented people with physical and sensory impairments, and were people with expertise in media/communications or the arts. The committee designed the awareness campaign (which also involved art and music) and were active in rolling out the seminars across the region.

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