Education is essential to child development, not only filling young minds with knowledge of the world and the opportunities it offers but also helping to build children’s personalities.
Alongside mathematics, science and literature, and arts and sports, children learn how to communicate, listen and understand. School enhances the work of parents, families and local communities, helping to teach children the skills they need to make good about the personal and career paths they want to take in life.
Without education, children will reach adulthood ill-equipped to deal with the world and unable to reach their full potential. As a result, families, communities and society in general lose. That is why the United Nations and the world community recognise that every child has a legal and moral right to quality education and no child should be denied that fundamental right because of disability, poverty or ethnicity.
But these high principles have not always been reflected in the lives of some of the world’s most marginalised children, including many thousands in my home country, Moldova.
In Moldova, we supported the government in its commitment to achieve deinstitutionalisation, reuniting children with families from whom they were separated for reasons of poverty and disability. But we realised early in the process that many thousands of children with intellectual disabilities were living away from families in special residential schools, which did not properly meet their needs, because the mainstream educational system could not offer support and individualised education programmes for them.
Many parents felt the only way their children could receive any education was to give them up to these institutions. Those who did not want to give up to their children were to keep the child at home, with no schooling and interaction with the outside world. In both situations, the children with disabilities and their families were left alone to face their difficulties.
Moldova, supported by Lumos, set about creating a truly inclusive education, which would embrace all children, where one had never existed.
The challenges to achieving this were daunting, requiring huge changes in the educational system, with the development of new regulations and methodological materials, supported by large-scale retraining of teaching staff.
Over and above technical changes, we needed to transform the mentality of all those involved, so teaching staff and parents would focus on what the child with disabilities can do instead of what they cannot do.
Speaking of results – last year, with the help of generous supporters all over the world, we started to build a new educational support service for children with severe and complex disabilities in one of our pilot regions, Ialoveni. This service, called the Special Education Unit, is part of a mainstream school.
Lumos works in partnership with local public authorities to complete this innovative SEU, which we will fill with specialist equipment and qualified staff who will be supporting children to learn, develop and feel good at school.
For some children, this will be their first experience in life of coming to a real school and interacting with their peers. This is a wonderful opportunity for some of our most disadvantaged children and it makes us ever more determined to make the Unit a reality and a model that, we hope, will be copied across Moldova.