When I was a kid, I was truly delighted to go to school and to get to know new things. New exciting adventures were waiting just around the corner. I literally felt like everything was possible to achieve, and through the feelings of joy and safety, I was really strengthened as an individual. This is exactly what inclusive education brings to the children when they get to be a part of this right way of teaching.
We’re back at the hotel after an eventful day, filled with lots of impressions. Our expectations before the field visit were really high but we couldn’t have imagined they would exceed this far. During the first days of visits, we all realized that we are taking part of something that is so much bigger than we could have understood from the beginning. As well as the huge responsibility of the IWitness trip, it is also a big honour to be able see the great work that Save the Children in China, together with the IKEA Foundation are doing. We were all very touched by the extremely dedicated people, who every day contribute to their work with a big portion of joy, enthusiasm and desire to change something they truly believe in.
The IKEA Foundation has been co-operating with Save the Children in China since 2006, through the money from the Soft Toys for Education campaign. The area that we are visiting, the Sichuan province, has been receiving aid from Save the Children since 2008. From the beginning, the aid was part of an emergency relief programme. This because of the earthquake in May 2008, that claimed the lives of more than 69,000 people and destroyed more than 11 million homes. The aid was then directed into long-term development work, and the implementation of the inclusive education programme started. This aims to ensure that every child, irrespective of background, ability and special needs, gets the same chance to learn and develop. It required a change in the society’s way of seeing and accepting people’s different abilities and needs. As Eunkyu Park mentioned in his earlier blog, Chengdu was a city open for new ideas. Therefore the capital city of the province was considered as a suitable pilot for the programme.
Just like yesterday’s experience, the school visits of today gave us an even brighter understanding about the meaning of inclusive education. The schools that we visited, Pi County Resource Centre and Special Education School and Zhuwa Primary School, are both working actively with the education project.
Pi County is teaching students with intellectual disabilities, such as Down’s Syndrome, autism and ADHD, and was independent from regular school in 2013. At this school, we got the chance to create a lesson and to interact with the children during the class, which gave us all so much happiness and energy. The children were so eager to get us all involved and we really got the feeling that we had entered a place where everyone was allowed to belong. Even us.
We also had the chance to observe the class and, during the observation, one enthusiastic boy turned around towards us. “ Who wants to give it a try? Just raise your hand!” he said. This tells much about the teacher’s way of encourage the children and creating a comfortable environment for them. It gave them the feeling that it is ok to try, since it is the most important way of learning.
After a 40-minute bus ride through Chengdu, we arrived at the second school, Zhuwa Primary School. Behind the gate and fence, that was surrounding the school, we were welcomed by a smiling headmaster. There was also this well-written Chinese sign with the message: “ Happy to live, happy to learn” , that Bei Bei Wang translated for us. We were also informed that the school is a new inclusive education project school, since just a few months ago.
Within the 405 students, there were four with disabilities. At this school we were asked, during an observation in a music lesson, to tell which two among the 40 children in the class had some sort of disability. None of us in our group could tell. What we did manageto do, though, was to start wondering about the meaning of the task. Quite fast we realized that it probably had to do with preconceptions, where people too often categorise people because of appearance and personalities.
And to be honest…isn’t exactly the same with iPhones? They are all different but still the same. Why does one need to categorise?