One School For All:
The Development of Inclusive Practices in Nicaragua

Desiree Roman Stadthagen

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Nicaragua launched a project at the end of 1998 as part of UNESCO's "Inclusive Schools and Community Support Programmes". The project aims to explore the development of inclusive practices in three public elementary schools in Managua and Leon, two of these schools are urban based and one is in a rural area. The programme supports these schools to adopt a culture of reflective inquiry, collaboration, and training to enable them to respond to diversity and for overall school improvement and teacher development.

The project aims to identify good working models of schools which experience success in promoting effective teaching and learning for all children. The pilot project is exploring ways of empowering teachers and raising their morale throughout their challenging journey. The project also plans to build the capacity of the school councils.

The criteria for school selection was the head teachers' interest in the project, the committment of teachers, schools with leadership qualities, initiative and creativity. Moreover, the project identified schools that were part of a larger project in the Ministry of Education to pilot curricular changes for primary education. Therefore, these schools have received more training and follow up.

The training used UNESCO's Teacher Education Resource Pack: "Special Needs in the Classroom". The coordinating team has also developed instruments that provoke reflection about teaching practice. The objectives of the first training workshop were to provide information about inclusive education, and to inform the participants about the methodology of action research. Headteachers, teachers, and parents from the selected schools participated in the workshop as well as delegates from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.

Other training workshops have been geared to supporting teachers in their action research. The training promotes processes of reflection about issues in their teaching practice that they want to improve. We also facilitate workshops in educational themes that are of concern to them and organize meetings amongst the three schools to share their experiences.

A major learning experience for the coordinating team has been to provoke reflection among teachers instead of telling them what and how to do their teaching. For the headteachers and teachers of these selected schools it has been a challenge to become engaged in the process of action research. Reflection has not been a common practice. Teachers have learned to identify problems at school that worry them, study them, and follow up. It has been very helpful for them to analyze situations in more depth and to question pupil's difficulties in school from a broader perspective. They are learning to observe children's behaviour more precisely and in a wider context.

A wonderful and unexpected gain has been that after the first training workshop, the headteachers were so sensitized, that they immediately included into their schools a few children with disabilities from the neighborhood. This exciting but challenging episode is important to point out considering that we do not yet have a policy or law to support inclusive education. However, since 1990 we have been integrating children with disabilities into ordinary schools thanks to the good will of teachers.

This September we have started a project to support these schools with the technical assistance from a non-governmental organization named CISAS: "Centro de Informacion y Servicios de Asesoria en Salud" and with the financial support from Save the Children - Sweden. Teachers have been trained from the selected pilot schools and from a special school on the "Child-to-Child Approach" as a means to support the development of inclusive schooling. In two weeks time we will have children who have had experience with "Child-to-Child" give a workshop to children from the four schools mentioned above. We have no doubt that these children will be catalysts for change in attitudes in their schools and communities towards people with disabilities. In addition, we have just started a radio program named "Child-to-Child on Air" where children with different abilities and disABILITIES express their concerns, dreams, and projects.

Our current experience shows that part of the success of our inclusive education project is based on the gradual awareness of teaching practices. We expect to identify through the UNESCO pilot project: "One School for All" strategies and processes for the development of effective schools for all children in Nicaragua.

Desiree can be contacted at: PO Box 14 Jinotere, Nicaragua.

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