Developing resource centres for inclusive education in China
One of the key challenges in developing inclusive education is that regular schools need ongoing support and advice – not just one-off training courses – to help staff and other stakeholders maintain motivation while developing the skills and confidence to become more innovative and inclusive. Support with implementing inclusive education can be provided in different ways. In this article, Ming Liu explains how resource centres are being developed in parts of China, as a way of supporting policy and changing practice at the local level.
In China, Save the Children is working with seven counties in Sichuan Province, Yunnan Province and Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region to set up inclusive education systems and improve services for children with disabilities. The three-year project started in July 2012 and focuses on establishing resource centres, working in pilot regular schools, training the schools’ heads and teachers, and training special education school teachers, so as to increase access to education for children with multiple and severe disabilities. The resource centres will drive the inclusive education system and should ensure services are sustainable after the project ends. The project is still very new, so this article focuses on sharing our experience of the initial development stage. We hope to be able to provide an update in a future edition of this newsletter.
Resource centre roles
The resource centres are managed by the county education bureaux, and are expected to assume multiple roles, including: education administration; teacher training and teaching research; cross-department co-ordination; provision of rehabilitation services, consultancy and assistive devices and materials.
In relation to learners with disabilities, the centres should:
- develop county-level policy on educating children with disabilities, within the national and provincial education policy framework
- develop procedures and regulations relating to: screening and identifying children with disabilities who will need specialist support in education; the development and implementation of individual education plans (IEPs); the assessment of school/ teacher performance in meeting the needs of children with disabilities, etc.
- monitor regular schools for the purpose of providing targeted assistance as well as for assessment of progress in inclusion
- co-ordinate with county government, Disabled Persons’ Federation, hospitals and Civil Affairs Bureau on the tasks of finding children with disabilities, collecting and sharing data, and improving referral and integrated services
- train general teachers and resource teachers in regular schools so they can better support children with disabilities
- develop assistive teaching and learning materials and provide assistive equipment
- provide rehabilitation services for school-aged children with disabilities, either in the centre or through outreach services
provide consultancy for parents, and organise parent training and awareness-raising events.
Setting up a resource centre like this means changes to the education administration system. It relies on the courage and willingness of the county education bureau to bring innovation to education management, redefining the roles of relevant departments, reallocating human resources and financial budgets, and introducing a series of policies and rules to regulate inclusive education. Save the Children therefore needed committed partners to enable the initiative to go ahead, and to be sustainable long term.
Counties were therefore invited to bid for partnership in this initiative, following a project introduction meeting. Selection of counties was done by Save the Children and the provincial education department against a list of key criteria. This process led to seven counties being selected and signing partnership agreements with Save the Children.
Through the partnership, Save the Children will provide technical support for setting up the resource centres, and training for education bureaux staff and resource centre teachers. The organisation will also provide some basic seed funding. Each county, however, is responsible for providing the physical space, arranging and paying staff, allocating an operating budget for the centre and then running the centre.
Setting up the centres
Resource centres are a new concept for the seven selected counties. At the project orientation meeting, we therefore took heads of the education bureaux and staff responsible for basic education to visit well-operated centres in Beijing. Here they could discuss with the district education bureau and centre heads and staff. The trip built understanding of the roles, structure, staffing, resourcing and operation of resource centres.
We developed criteria for selecting resource centre staff, in negotiation with the county education bureaux. With technical support from Perkins School for the Blind, we set up a team of trainers – consisting of special education experts from the United States, India and China – to train resource centre staff through five intensive workshops, each followed by on-site support and monitoring. During the first workshop, staff from each county worked together to draft their resource centre plan, including looking at the location of the centre, the layout of the physical space, the organisational structure, staffing, role descriptions, and resources needed. The staff presented their draft plan to the education bureau and the bureau will refine the plan based on their own context. This is where we are now.
The seed funding for the centres will be provided upon approval of their plans. The funds will purchase office facilities, rehabilitation equipment and decoration materials, books and toys for children. Throughout the process of setting up the centres, Save the Children will work with experienced experts and centre managers to provide consultancy to each county through remote communications and field visits. The resource centre teachers’ workshops and follow-up visits will be conducted to ensure that the staff have the necessary skills.
Setting up a resource centre in a physical sense will be the easier part of this project. Staffing, getting a budget from the county government, and running the centre long term will be crucial for the success of the project. The education bureaux need to convince county-level government to invest in inclusive education. Creating resource centre staff positions, recruiting staff and paying them from the government budget requires the county education bureaux to negotiate with various government departments. Currently, the resource centre staff we trained are from different sectors, including county education bureaux, county teacher training centres, county special education services as well as regular schools. Eventually we hope they will become full-time staff working for the resource centre.
Ming Liu, Inclusive Education Project Manager
Save the Children China Programme
2-2-52, Jianwai Diplomatic Compound
Chaoyang District, Beijing, PRC