Viola is an early childhood educator. For many years she has managed classrooms with a large number of children from different backgrounds and with different abilities. She says the challenges were enormous: “It was hard for me to meet the diverse needs of all children in the class. I support the idea of preschool inclusion, and I know the benefits, but I lacked the knowledge and skills for inclusive practice”. Despite the improvements in the education system in Albania, the philosophy of inclusion, especially in preschool education, was not promoted enough. Teachers were often left to deal in isolation with children with a wide range of learning abilities, and offered little training.
“Inclusive education is almost a new reality in the Albanian education system, especially for preschool,” says Mirlinda Bushati, Education Specialist with Unicef Albania. She explains that Unicef has been working very closely with the Albanian Ministry of Education on developing a national education strategy which includes an important component on inclusive education as well as on standards for preschool teachers. However, despite good work on the strategy and standards, Unicef identified that there was a significant gap in implementing the strategy. “There were some scattered little interventions from some NGOs, but there was not a holistic approach on how to tackle inclusive education in preschool,” says Mirlinda.
Teachers needed practical teacher training programmes that foster positive attitudes and best practices for successful preschool inclusion. Interventions were needed to ensure that teaching has the right rhythm for those who face greater difficulties in their learning. With the support of the European Union, Unicef helped the Ministry of Education and the Agency for Assuring Quality in Preuniversity Education (AAQPE) in Albania to develop inclusive education methodologies for preschool settings.
Unicef also developed a training manual and, jointly with the AAQPE, provided training on practical implementation of the methodology to 582 teachers and school directors. Viola was one of the teachers who took part in the training. “The new tools introduced in the training helped me develop innovative approaches and improve my teaching. Gradually, I started to adopt new teaching styles that are inclusive of different ways of learning. If we want children to be helpful to each other – to accept, interact, and be friendly to each other – we need to teach it,” she says.
This year, the methodology for preschool inclusive learning was accredited by Albania’s Ministry of Education. According to Mirlinda, this is a major step forward: “It means that now all preschool teachers can use this methodology that ensures quality inclusive education,” she says.
The fact that the project was supported by the European Union meant a great deal in this context. “Apart from EU financing, the fact that every part of this initiative was also in line with the EU accession requirements made the EU support even more important in terms of cooperation with the government and institutions,” Mirlinda says.
About the project
Promoting inclusive education is part of the “Mitigation of the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of children and parents in the Western Balkans and Turkey” programme implemented by Unicef and funded by the EU through the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). Through this €5 million programme, 490,000 children and parents across the programme area are expected to have better access to public services that promote early childhood development, education, health, and protection as part of recovery from COVID-19.
Photo credits: Unicef
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