Organized groups representing the interests of students with disabilities, learning difficulties and other health issues have united to demand equal access to education for all children, Phileleftheros reported Wednesday.
“Preventing any child from learning and participating in the school community as an equal member is a violation of human rights. The school belongs to all children,” Yioula Pitsali, a representative of one of the groups, told Phileleftheros.
She added that “no committee and no expert can deprive a child of this right”.
Pitsiali said that currently schools in Cyprus are not suitable for all children and underlined that “inclusive education does not mean hiring school escorts and specialized teachers, but distributing funds and appointing professionals where it is really necessary”.
The initiative is supported by Despo Michaelidou, Commissioner for Children’s Rights, who criticized the Ministry of Education for its lack of progress in promoting inclusion in education, in line with international treaties, including Cyprus is part.
Responding to criticism, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said inclusive education is just a slogan. Speaking to state radio CyBC, Prodromou said the Cypriot system is the same as in other European countries.
He noted that about 400 students attend special schools, while most children with special abilities go to school with other children. Prodromou also pointed out that the number of school assistants and specialist teachers has increased this year.
In response to Prodromou’s response, Commissioner Michaelidou told CyBc that “inclusive education is at the heart of democracy”. Alongside the parents, she said they were right to protest because Cyprus is not implementing the suggestions of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. She also added that the Ministry of Education is looking to invest in special schools when no special schools should have existed in the first place.
Inclusive education adviser Andreas Christodoulou also commented on the issue saying that inclusive education involves changing the education system as a whole and not just modernizing existing special education structures.
He stated that inclusive education concerns all children and made special mention to LGBTIQ+ students, neurodivergent students, students with mobility issues, as well as students who do not speak Greek as their first language.
According to Christodoulou, some measures that can be adopted to achieve a more inclusive education system are:
- Create flexible study programs
- Implementation of team teaching
- Hire trained personal assistants for students
- Install inclusion counselors in each school
- Create accessible schools
- Offer occupational therapy and logotherapy sessions in schools
- Create different exam methods
- Train all educators in inclusivity
Parents of children with disabilities demand equal opportunities at school (video and photos)