Volume:6, Issue: 1

May. 1, 2014

Teaching Children with Disabilities in a Rural Russian School
Baiborodova, Ludmilla V. [about] , Lybov B. Pautova [about]

KEYWORDS: Integration, rural school, support, children with disabilities.

ABSTRACT: In the article, we present different ways of teaching children with disabilities in comprehensive rural schools and the particularities of their integration into the community of children without disabilities. The paper is based on the experience of supporting children with developmental problems in one of such rural schools.

Nowadays, there are quite a lot of children with developmental disorders in Russian country schools. In some of them, the share of Type VII (developmental delay) and Type VIII (mentally retarded) students reaches 30-40%. So, it is quite common for children with disabilities to be integrated into the environment of their normally developing peers for a variety of reasons (3, p 8.). The predominant reasons for integration are the scarcity of special education institutions in rural areas of the country and the reluctance of parents to send their children so far from home to be educated.

According to The Russian Federation Education Act and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the general education school is obliged to prepare children with physical and/or mental disabilities as well as children without disabilities for life in modern society. An analysis of experiences teaching children with disabilities in rural comprehensive schools reveals a number of ways of accomplishing this task (7,pp.30-31):

  • By designating a single school for most of the special needs children in a particular municipal district.
  • Special classrooms in rural schools for children with disabilities.
  • Multi-age ‘remediation groups’ with specially trained teachers.
  • Children with special needs are taught in most rural schools together with other children but according to their individual plans and curricula.

There are a number of circumstances determining the choice of the approach for teaching country children with disabilities. Some schools offer a number of variations for teaching such children. In any case, the teachers’ paramount task is to assist children with special needs in their integration into the general education school environment, their peers’ environment, to make them feel secure and help them develop in accordance with their abilities (3, p.8).

Disabled students upon leaving school should be able to find their place in society as “full-rights” members who are capable of living independent lives as well as interacting and productively cooperating with those surrounding them. In this respect, an integrated education presents the most efficient medium for socialization as long as the general education institutions provide the appropriate conditions for ensuring a quality education, special assistance, and technical skills training.

The successful adaptation of children with disabilities into their social environment can be ensured by their teachers’ efforts in two important directions. First, the teachers must constantly and consistently raise the disabled child’s potentialities, and secondly, they must work with peers and others in the surrounding environment to develop tolerance for people who are different from themselves in their mental and/or physical development.

Let us analyze one of the ways for organizing education for children with disabilities taken by local education authorities. In 2005, the Yemishevo General Education School set up classrooms for special needs children diagnosed with intellectual disabilities. These children were transferred from schools in Tutayev where class size was in the 25-30 range to the new, smaller setting of no more than 12 students per class.

At present, the school has 102 students including 10 “home-based” students. There are 10 children with developmental delays and 68 children with mental disabilities. The children diagnosed as F70 (School Type VIII) are educated in special classes and multi-age groupings. The children diagnosed F80 (School Type VII) are included in general education classes.

The school’s goal is to assist each child in self-knowledge and self-determination, provide opportunities for self-fulfillment and to make the child feel that society needs him/her (3, pp.10-11).

The curriculum is structured into three parts: general education subjects, technology, and special education. The learning process in the special classes is organized in the following manner: during years 1-4 or elementary stage, general education is combined with special and propaedeutic work; in years 5-9 general education is continued; vocationally oriented education starts in year 5.

In the course of their education, students acquire functional literacy and communicative, learning, and behavioral skills. The traditional, compulsory subjects include reading and speech development, writing, mathematics, biology, history, geography, art, singing, music, and physical education. Natural history comes in year 5 and social studies in years 8 and 9. During years 5-9, there is one hour of geometry taught per week.

Special attention is paid to the technology curriculum in the education of special needs children for the purpose of helping them achieve their important educational, developmental, therapeutic, and social goals. The course of study consists of design and technology in years 1-4 and vocational training in years 5-9.

The elementary school technology curriculum in special classes includes the following types of activities:

  • Clay and Play-Doh modeling;
  • Working with natural materials;
  • Paper craft;
  • Using textiles;
  • Using metal and wood.

In years 5-9, children with special needs are given vocational training. Taking into consideration the facilities available, the children’s interests and abilities and parental requests, it was decided to choose two basic directions in vocational education. These are sewing and woodworking. Woodworking and metalworking machinery is available in one workshop. Sewing machines and home economics equipment are located in the other workshop. After examining the children’s needs and abilities, the teachers form the two groups. The children can also choose for themselves. For example Andrei P. chose to learn sewing, enjoyed his classes, and on finishing year 9 passed the exam in this subject.

Self-directed learning teaches children to work in a group, solve problems, and overcome difficulties. Tasks are distributed according to students’ ability. This helps to prevent children from feeling inferior or incapable. The child’s potential must be estimated adequately, however. This is crucial for his/her self-fulfillment and creativity. In this way, opportunities for success are created which may enhance the child’s cognitive activity and motivation for work.

Each child has his/her individual traits. Some do their work quickly; others slowly; the older help the younger. During the lesson, the children can approach one another to ask for advice and help. The children enjoy doing group projects like “A Village of My Dreams,” “A Basket of Fruit,” or “A House Made from the First Letter of My Name” and the like.

Performing various tasks in the sewing, embroidering, carving technology classes, the children develop spatial skills; eye-hand coordination; color, shape, and size perception as well as productive work skills. They learn to plan their work, follow instructions, and give a verbal description of their actions. This last task, to comment on a sequence of one’s actions with the help of the instruction card, has proven to be very effective.

Each child in a special class has a responsibility to perform. Some duties of this kind include taking care of plants, keeping a part of the classroom clean or organizing and maintaining educational aids. In years 5-9, there are optional, small-group lessons on such topics as essential life skills information, considering options for future work, and ways of finding one’s place in modern society.

At the end of the school year, the workshops are used as a base for summer work experience. This involves 10 days for years 5-7, 20 days for years 8-9. On the conclusion of year 9, the children take their exams in vocational training and then receive their state certificate.

In recent years, project work has been given special attention. A special subject called, “Basics of project work” has been introduced into the curriculum in regular and in the special class multi-age groups. Project work facilitates the children’s effective interaction with society, enhances their social communication skills and promotes a feeling of their importance for other people. It also helps them to demonstrate their ability to be successful in socially significant work (2).

Children with special needs take part in vocational training projects like “Making Furniture for an Apartment,” “Classroom Redecoration,” “Schoolyard,” and similar activities. Parents are eager to help because they realize that the skills their children learn at school will be vital to their future socialization as adults.

Most parents start thinking about their children’s future from their first years at school. The parents’ committee of the school initiated an orientation program for years 7-9 which involves visits to the educational institutions in Yaroslavl, Rybinsk, and Gavrilov-Yam where children with disabilities can continue their education upon graduation. The parents’ committee provides the transportation for these visits which include both students and their parents.

Children in years 1-7 participate in individual and/or group speech therapy sessions. These are of extreme importance. Those in years 1-4 who evidence speech defects attend psychomotor system and sensor system development sessions. Special individual and group speech therapy, therapeutic exercise and similar sessions of from 15 to 25 minutes take place in both mornings and afternoons. Groups are formed on the basis of the type and degree of imparity. Therapeutic exercise groups are formed according to individual student medical recommendations.

The school provides health and recreation activities planned with consideration for the child’s disabilities. These activities help children cope with school stress. There is a specially equipped classroom for individual and group practices as well as for massage. Morning exercises, five-minute exercise pauses, active recreational games, preferably, out-of-doors are organized.

In accordance with its annual plan for sports and recreation, the school hosts numerous sports competitions on the local, district, and regional levels. All the children including those with special needs take an active part in them according to their abilities. The school also maintains an active tobacco and drug prevention program.

Educating children with disabilities implies joint work by all specialists and their close interaction with families. The social worker and classroom teacher are in close contact with all family members.

Medical specialists such as a gynecologist, pediatrician, a specialist in treating alcohol addiction, and a dentist are actively involved with the children, their parents, and teachers. They organize a variety of activities for the school. A psychiatrist from the Tutayev Children’s clinic comes weekly to examine children and work with parents. Parents are present for their child’s medical-psychological examination and appreciate the remedial measures prescribed. Being involved in the examination process, they come to realize that their child’s cognitive disorders and learning problems are not caused by laziness. As the doctors explain the recommended remedial measures, the parents grow more involved in cooperating with the medical and educational staff.

The psychiatrist also conducts educational programs for parents and teachers which enhance their knowledge and skills for working with special needs children. The psychiatrist also takes part in the school’s specialists’ meetings.

The classroom teachers keep journals for monitoring every child’s development. With the help of the psychologist’s and developmental pediatrician’s tests results, the child’s progress rate is examined and personalized goals and tasks are assigned (3).

The teachers strive to develop personalized programs and plans for educating their children. They work out these educational routes by taking into consideration the individuality of each child and attempting to predict his/her degree of success with assigned tasks. Before the educational route is decided upon, however, the child passes through a period of detailed medical and psychological examinations. The results of these are carefully recorded in the child’s personal and medical folder.

One of the structures for ensuring each child’s health is through the work of the specialists’ committee that is an integral part of the child’s educational, supervision service. It is a permanent body in the school that is united by the common task of developing and implementing the child’s educational support strategies. At the same time, it is a form of the teachers’ body of work for developing the child’s personal development plans, working out recommendations on his/her supervision and monitoring the process of his/her education (7, 9).

An important part of the children’s socialization is played by out-of-class activities which involve students of both regular and special classes (1). Teachers try to ensure that the special needs children do not become isolated from the rest of the children. The teachers and specialists try to create a favorable psychological environment for all children. As a result, a unique process can be observed as children with disabilities begin to develop rapidly as they interact and cooperate with pupils from the regular classes.

Unlike the teaching process conducted in classes or multi-age groups which is determined by the curriculum, individual programs and plans, the process of student formation (or social education which is a unique feature of Russian schools) is more flexible and can be adapted to parental recommendation and the child’s interests and needs. This gives every child a chance for self-fulfillment. School volunteer projects, competitions, festivals, contests, games and so on give every student a chance to participate and succeed in this or that activity. The teachers provide collective, creative work and recreation for all of the children. There is a school camp for the autumn, winter and spring vacations. There are school trips to the concert hall, circus, museums, galleries and such. There are many trips to the towns in the region as well as to other Russian towns and cities. In such a way, out-of-class activities are accessible for all the children at the school, and this brings very positive results. The children with disabilities raise their levels of development and socialization while the other children become more humane and tolerant of those different from themselves.


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