Kindergarten Sopot Centre of Excellence: an inclusive approach for children with disabilities in early years and pre-primary education in Croatia
Early Childhood Inclusion represents values and practices that support the rights of each child and their family, regardless of their abilities. Lifelong learning is indispensable for the personal development of professionals working with children. Educators and professional associates working with children with disabilities should be supported by an appropriate environment, but also by a partnership of experts and the children’s family. In order to build an inclusive standard, professional development of professional staff, targeted professional development, availability of professional support and community participation are important quality factors.
There is an on-going need for inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream kindergarten programmes. A large number of included children with disabilities are in mainstream programmes; the third year of providing training in the Centre of Excellence (85 attendants – speech and language therapists, psychologists, educational rehabilitators, pedagogues, kindergarten teachers).
The aim is to increase the number of children with disabilities included in kindergartens in the Republic of Croatia and increase professional support for educational staff.
The guiding conceptual framework behind the policy development are the Laws of the Republic of Croatia and the curriculum of the Kindergarten Sopot.
For ten years, Kindergarten Sopot has created a clear mission of inclusiveness. The Kindergarten has developed principles of co-operation and team plans to implement inclusion, and continuously ensures optimum development of processes and improvement of educational staff. This is confirmed by the significant increase in the number of included children with developmental disabilities, and verification of several programmes which aim at the inclusion of children with disabilities in the early years and pre-primary system.
Raising the quality of inclusive practice is one of Kindergarten Sopot’s most important visions.
During the training, participants are empowered to implement and improve quality and innovative inclusive content in educational work with children from the earliest age. Training is organised into nine modules:
- Inclusion in early years and pre-primary education
- Including children with disabilities in the pre-primary system
- Preparing the conditions to include a child with a disability
- Individualised approach to working with a child with a disability
- Children with disabilities in a special educational group
- Individualised approach to children’s families
- The role of Kindergarten in strengthening parental competencies
- Co-operation with the local community
- Presentation of participants’ case studies.
Every child with a disability has the right to be included and to receive an education programme that is designed for their developmental abilities. With our training, every member of educational staff in the Republic of Croatia has an opportunity to receive professional development and to apply given knowledge and documents in their own kindergartens.
When did the change/policy development take place (dates)? What was the timescale?
2011 – growing need to include children with disabilities in Kindergarten Sopot
2013 – verification of Special Programme of educational work for children with intellectual disabilities by the Ministry of Science and Education
2014 – children from the Special Programme included in inclusive workshops with children in mainstream programmes
2017 – Centre of Excellence (a professional development centre) programme verified by Ministry of Science and Education.
What steps were taken in this process?
- Training of educational staff in Kindergarten Sopot
- Development of material context
- Individualised programmes for children with disabilities (IPP/IEP)
- Plan of support for parents/care-givers
- Evaluation of learning outcome achievements of children with disabilities
- New outcomes planning.
Who worked on and sustained the development? What key partnerships had to be established?
The Principal and educational staff at Kindergarten Sopot. A partnership has been established with the Ministry of Science and Education, Agency for Upbringing and Education, Zagreb Office for Education, University of Zagreb, Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences.
The key outcomes and impact were:
- Continuation of education for children with disabilities in mainstream primary schools
- Increased number of children with disabilities included in mainstream kindergartens
- Appropriate IPP/IEP for children
- Appropriate learning environment
- Parents/care-givers as partners.
What impact/added value did they provide? To which stakeholder groups?
Parenting support for parents/care-givers of children from 1 to 7 years old.
Support for educational staff working with children with disabilities or interested in entering inclusive practice.
What were the biggest challenges? What lessons were learned?
Inclusion of children with multiple disabilities. The lesson learned was that the more adaptations are made to the learning environment and programme, the less noticeable the children’s disabilities become.
The work of the Centre of Excellence (a professional development centre) is evaluated by attendants through evaluation lists.
Kindergarten Sopot plans to continue to include children with disabilities in the kindergarten and continue training for educational staff in the Centre of Excellence.
The practice will be built upon through new projects, action research, case studies and new programmes.
Continued co-operation with state and professional institutions and other educational institutions in the Republic of Croatia.
Speech and language therapist