Removing barriers

Published: 08 Feb, 2015

School No. 27, much like its name, is unremarkable from the outside. As is typical of soviet-era buildings, it is large, brown and grey, and something you would walk by without ever noticing. But this particular school is remarkable in its own right. It was amongst the first in Armenia to offer services to the special needs children. In addition to conventional academic lessons, School No. 27 provides specialists in speech, hearing, psychology and physical movement, and pupils can benefit from one-on-one teaching.

For decades, the approach in Armenia has been to exclude special needs children from mainstream schools and place them in separate establishments where they were deprived of a decent education. Now, they are slowly but surely being offered more opportunities like the ones provided at School No. 27.

The principal, Susanna Sargsyan, says that “All children learn tolerance here. They are calmer and more attentive as a result. The special needs children become more self-confident. They are encouraged to achieve.”

One of many children the school has touched is 12 year-old Anoush. She is wheelchair-bound, and until recently, her disability would have excluded her from the mainstream Armenian education system. Anoush may have impaired speech and mobility, but this is no longer prevents her from attending school . She is one of 44 special needs children attending this school, and there are currently another 13 inclusive schools in the country. “I like everything about the school,” she said. “My favourite subject is biology and I like learning about the environment. When the school day ends, I am not ready to go home.”

UNICEF Armenia Representative Sheldon Yett recently noted that “the barriers special needs children face are imposed by grown-ups and the society around them. These barriers are not of their making. All children should have an equal right to an education.”

Later this year an additional 18 inclusive schools will be established in Armenia bringing the national total to 32.

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