Education Minister Costas Kadis on Monday said that much has already been done to meet the needs of disabled children in schools but announced a series of meetings with all concerned to see how conditions could be improved further.
Kadis was speaking after protesters on Monday demanded that the government enforces article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention recognises the right of disabled children to an inclusive education system at all levels and promotes the development of their mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.
The demonstrators – members of eleven organisations – said they felt compelled to protest as they believe children with disabilities are not receiving the proper support from schools.
“Another school year begins for our children, with reduced individual support from specialist teachers…, no personal support from specialist teachers within the general class and sporadic efforts of co-teaching between general and special teachers within the classroom,” a statement by the group said.
They continued by saying that among others there is “lack of training of special and general teachers on the rights of our children and their obligations”, and an absence of support for the effective use of technology by children for learning.
After the protest the president of the Organisation of the Blind, one of the organising groups, Christakis Nicolaides, said the eleven groups had come together to demand equal educational opportunities and services in schools.
“We are talking about reasonable accommodation, equipment, experts and additional supervisors in classes, as well as the qualitative and proper training of teachers themselves throughout our educational system on the issues of people with disabilities,” he said.
According to a statement by the eleven organisations “the educational system must change radically and a flexible educational system that recognises the need and the ability of all students, respecting their diversity must be created.”
“In recent years a lot has been done on both an institutional and practical level to meet the specialised and individual needs of each child,” the education minister responded after the protest. “We do not say that as a department we have addressed everything or that there are no problems or that everything works. What we do is try to improve constantly, so since last spring we have instructed the interdepartmental scientific committee of the education ministry to study the entire system, from pre-primary up to high school in relation to special education and special education structures and programme levels to see how we can become more efficient.”
Kadis added that on September 20 a meeting will take place to consider the findings of the committee and then the ministry will start a dialogue with all stakeholders to determine what the children are entitled to and what the state can give them.
The education ministry stated on Saturday that all schools are equipped with wheelchairs, special desks and walkers while children with disabilities whose needs are served in schools outside their educational region are transported by the ministry or their transportation is subsidised.
In response to the request of parents, all special schools now operate all-day, “thus by extending the operating hours of special schools, the needs of children and their families are being served, to the greatest extent possible”.
The ministry added it has an annual budget of €11m to cover the needs for special equipment, transport, employment of auxiliary staff, all-day operation of special schools, home education, the financial support of associations of parents of special schools, and the operation of summer programmes in special schools.