For students in Moldova, the first day of school, or first bell, is an important day. It’s a day marked by speeches and ceremonies, and everyone dresses in their finest outfits. At some schools in Moldova, children with disabilities are joining their peers at school, some for the first time.
Keystone Human Services International Moldova Association (Keystone Moldova) is working with the Ministry of Education, several Moldovan local public authorities, and the NGO Step by Step to implement a project called Equal Access to Education. Part of the Community for All-Moldova Program and funded by the Early Childhood Program of the Open Society Foundations, the Equal Access to Education project is advancing school inclusion for children with intellectual and other mental disabilities.
The Equal Access to Education project focuses on promoting inclusive education, building the capacity of education staff and local public administration representatives, fostering an open-minded and accepting school environment, and developing standards and regulations for inclusive schools so that they can be implemented nationally. The project lines up with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Moldova ratified in July 2010.
Equal access to education is essential for children with disabilities to reach their full potential. In fact, several children are already attending school with their peers. A six-year-old girl with an intellectual disability was supported to attend her local kindergarten. A team of specialists worked with the family, teachers, and other school professionals to involve each of them in developing a plan for the girl to attend school. In September 2011, she began attending kindergarten for one hour each day, but by November 2011, she was attending school just like her peers did – for the entire day. Furthermore, although the young girl did not speak when she started school and had some challenging behaviors, in January 2012, she recited a short poem for the New Year’s celebration. Many of her challenging behaviors have faded, and she has learned many of the independent skills that are typical for her age.
146 children with special educational needs from 22 communities are included in mainstream schools with the support of Keystone Moldova. From 146 children included in schools, 23 of them have been deinstitutionalized / prevented of institutionalization in Orhei institution and received intense assistance under Community For All-Moldova Program.
The Republic of Moldova has come far in creating an inclusive society, but there is much room for further growth. For education to be fully inclusive, the partnership between schools and public authorities must be strengthened, local educational psychological services must provide guidance for implementing inclusive education, a standard framework should be developed, and parents, teachers, administrators, and public authorities must be encouraged to embrace school inclusion.
Implementing inclusive education is a complex process, involving many different people and organizations, but once every child has equal access to education, everyone will benefit. It is our goal for all students with and without disabilities to be at school for first bell.