Families play an essential role in educating children. Family is the first school. As Suleiman shows in this article, the family and the school are two worlds that need to work together to achieve optimal development for the child. Inclusive education offers hope for families seeking answers and assistance regarding the educational futures of their children with disabilities, but lack of clarity about what inclusive education entails means parents also have concerns that need addressing.
Hanan Society’s move towards inclusion
Since 1999, the Tetouan-based Hanan Society for Children with Disabilities in Morocco, in partnership with Save the Children, has sought to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools, having previously supported special education since 1969. The Society’s centres, which provided special education for students, are gradually transforming into resource centres to provide pedagogical, technical and therapeutic support to mainstream schools. In collaboration with Humanity and Inclusion, the Society is developing a project to bring a culture of inclusive education into primary education, preparatory education and vocational training.
Introducing families to inclusive education
In 2005 the Society organised workshops for 186 families of children with disabilities registered in the Society’s Special Education Centres. These workshops aimed to persuade families to send their children to mainstream primary schools to continue their education.
Some families rejected the idea, others were responsive to it. A large group of households, especially mothers (mostly from low-income families), believed the Hanan Society was expelling their children from the Special Education Centres. They questioned the purpose and content of the inclusive education project. However, mothers from about 30 families were convinced of the importance and started to register their children in schools close to their homes.
Working with families who rejected inclusive education
Some parents feared their children would be neglected by mainstream teachers or exposed to verbal or physical violence or discomfort. Other families feared their children would fail to achieve academically in mainstream schools. Most families said teachers and administrators were not prepared to work with their children. The Inclusive Education Project Officer in collaboration with Multidisciplinary Team and the inclusive education pedagogical support teachers from Hanan Society held intensive meetings with families to explain the importance of enrolling and staying in mainstream school. Families learned about international laws and instruments relating to disability, how to defend their children’s rights and how to better support them at home. Ultimately 80% of families supported their children’s enrolment and retention in mainstream schools.
In 2003 the Society initiated an Early Intervention Programme to include children in primary education institutions and nurseries. Families were encouraged to enrol their children with disabilities into the programme from the age of 3. This enabled the inclusive education team to start tracking students’ educational paths from a young age, through daily visits to schools, and to provide them with rehabilitation and educational support.
Hanan Society follows-up the inclusion of students into mainstream primary schools but relies on families to follow up with the students in secondary education as the society has limited resources. The Society’s experience has demonstrated the extraordinary efforts of families, to support their children. About 19 children reached secondary school and a young man with cerebral palsy started his university education.
To involve families in the learning process, the Society created the Parents’ School, led by mothers who have experience of including their children in mainstream schools. The experienced mothers support and guide new mothers with children with disabilities at home and in school.
The Inclusive Education Team identify the needs of family members and the types of intervention that can be effective to provide coherent educational tracking. Family-based interventions help parents and other family members to think about and adapt to the inclusive education programme, to foster a better understanding of the general situation and to avoid focusing solely on the child’s disability as the problem.
The Society’s education team supports families to follow realistic expectations for education and to understand the role of the educational specialist as well as their own responsibilities. These interventions may focus on the individual within the family or collectively with a group of families, according to their immediate needs. The following types of support is offered to families.
Advocating for their children
Many parents are unaware that their children with disabilities have the right to attend neighbourhood schools. Also, parents’ goals may not always match the needs and interests of their children. Parents of children with disabilities have the potential to be their most effective rights defenders but they need support to understand and advocate for their children’s right to inclusive education. Parents may also need support organising themselves as a group to challenge exclusionary practices in education and to work in partnership with disabled persons organisations (DPO) and other community-based groups to advocate for rights.
Collaborating with teachers
Developing parent/family groups provides a space for education professionals and parents to exchange information and experience regarding children’s educational development, the dynamics at home, and general family attitudes. Working with teachers can build families’ confidence to share their emotions, their child’s difficulties, or their hopes and aspirations.
The groups help family members understand their emotions and share their knowledge and experience of raising their children. The parents also engage in decisions about goals, methodology, or various contacts with other education or health specialists.
Financial and legal assistance
Parents are given information about administrative resources – interventions or financial and legal assistance – that could help them and their children. They are given the opportunity to contact local associations for parents of children with disabilities and other specialists.
Providing parents with the space to develop collaborative relationships with other parents, with teachers, or with other stakeholders, gives them the opportunity to express themselves while listening to others’ experiences, emotions and difficulties. Families have expressed that they want more such support, on a continued basis, to build their capacity in relation to inclusive education. Some also highlight, however, that financial challenges regarding rehabilitation and education for their children remain a barrier for them.
Suleiman Omrani via EENET at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was submitted in Arabic and translated by Ayman Qwaider.