On 16-17 June in Sofia a meeting focusing on the problems of integrated education of children with disabilities was organized by Tulip Foundation. 29 representatives of more than 20 NGOs, 3 mainstream schools as well as resource teachers from all over the country attended the meeting. Representatives of the Ministry of Educations and Science and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy also took part in the meeting.
During the meeting the participants discusses the main issues related to integrated education of children with disabilities. Among the problematic issues the participants mentioned the limited number of educational institutions that have adapted accessible environment; insufficient preparation of teachers and lack of support materials and manuals meeting the specific needs of children with disabilities; lack of support organisations and institutions helping the children with their preparation for school; the existence of the practice to direct children with disabilities to the specialized schools rather than to the mainstream ones. It was extremely useful to hear the different view points presented by the group – that of parents and professional organisations, specialists and NGOs, resource teachers and mainstream school teachers already working with children with disabilities. Some of the conclusions reached unanimously are the following: it is important to work towards adapting the environment to the needs of the children instead of forcing the children to adapt to it and that it is extremely important for the children to get used to the mainstream environment as early as possible starting with kindergarten attendance. The legal framework of the integrated education and the existing integration practices were among the hot topics discussed by the participants.
Another important issue among which the participants gathered was the role that NGOs can and should play in the process of developing the mechanisms of integrated education. This position is related to their professional practice and experience gathered during study visits to many European countries.
While discussing the possibilities for changing the public opinion and that of the educational institutions the participants in the meeting stressed the importance of working with the universities preparing teachers, social workers and special pedagogists. Special attention was paid to the fact that integrating children with disabilities into the mainstream education should start from kindergartens.
In the end of the meting the participants discussed different possibilities for cooperation and exchange of experience among those present and other NGOs and institutions having a role in the integrated education of children with disabilities – periodical exchange of information and future meetings and trainings; attracting other NGOs and agencies, etc.
List of the organisations with a brief summary of their activities will be presented on the web site of Tulip Foundation (www.tulipfoundation.net). Any organisation that wishes to be included in the list and to participate in future working meetings and exchange of experience is invited to fill out an information form and send it to Tulip Foundation by e-mail or ordinary mail.