In 2005, every day one child under the age of seven was abandoned in an institution in Moldova according to UNICEF. Disturbingly, nine out of ten of these children who were abandoned were not orphans but had living parents. Poverty and a lack of support in local communities were the primary factors that caused families to abandon children or place them in long-stay institutions.
‘These residential institutions were left over from the Soviet times’, said Liudmila Lefter, education officer with UNICEF, who we spoke to for a new video on inclusive education to support the regional edition of the GEM Report on Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia released this week in Russian and with an executive summary produced in almost 30 regional languages. ‘Few families would take the children home for the vacation. Most of the time, the children in the institutions were isolated from the community, isolated from their families. And in 2007 there were over 11,000 children in over 65 residential institutions, including more than 4,000 children in 37 schools, special schools, auxiliary schools for children with physical or intellectual disabilities’.
‘These institutions also offered very low quality education’, she continued. ‘Children were not prepared for life when they got out of the institutions; they did not have many chances to continue their education and to get a good profession. So they were in way doomed’.
Over the past decade, UNICEF Moldova has been working with the Moldovan government and NGOs across the country to close these residential institutions, integrating children back into families and communities, and of course, school. The closing down of many of these institutions accelerated the need for more inclusive schools. To assist with this, development partners have been working with government to develop frameworks and policies. They have also been working with schools to equip teachers with the knowledge and skills to meet the needs of their new students. Training and psychosocial support was also provided to parents and students to help them adapt.
‘In the beginning, it was difficult to move to inclusive education because no one was ready for it’, Lefter explained. ‘Having children with disabilities in special schools was a default situation’.
While there remains resistance towards the inclusion of children with disabilities and special educational needs, studies show that since 2012, there has been an overall increase in the degree of acceptance among carers, students, and teachers. In recent years, significant progress has been made in achieving inclusive education in Moldova, but all partners must keep working together to ensure that progress continues, and that truly inclusive education is achieved.
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