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Inclusion of school-age children with disabilities in Ukraine.

Located in Eastern Europe, Ukraine sits at a crossroads between Europe and Asia. The Ukrainian republic was the most important economic component of the former Soviet Union, producing about four times the output of the next-ranking republic. Shortly after independence was ratified by the former Soviet Union in December 1991, the Ukrainian government erected a legal framework for privatization. However, widespread resistance to reform within the government and the legislature has stalled reform efforts and led to some backtracking (Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, 2003). Economic output has declined since independence, particularly with agricultural and industrial products (The World Factbook, 2006). Today, Ukraine struggles with developing capital markets and attempting to improve the legislative framework for private businesses (Benardo & Silber, 2005).

Education in Ukraine

Since its independence, Ukraine has attempted to restructure its Soviet-style education system. Following independence, for example, the government made Ukrainian the official language (although many schools still give instruction in Russian), creating a pressing need for textbooks and other educational materials in the Ukrainian language. Today, education leaders report that Ukraine has a European public education structure that provides preschool through higher education to its citizens (Raver, in press). The principal levels now offered are: preschool, primary general education, basic general secondary education, full general secondary education, vocational technical education, education qualification levels for "qualified workers," and higher education, including undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral education (Korsak, 1998). Education reform has been sluggish and fraught with resistance and setbacks, mirroring Ukraine's efforts to revamp its economy and productivity levels (Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, 2003).

Some education reforms, however, have reported positive outcomes. For example, as of 2001, 39 percent of preschool-age children attended preschools, a noted national priority (System of the Education in Ukraine, 2001). The country's movement toward a 12-year public education program has been accepted, prompting revisions in primary education. Now, the curriculum for primary education is described as being based on "human values, on the principles of scientific and cultural development, humanism, democracy, and mutual respect among different ethnic groups" (System of the Education of Ukraine, 2001, p. 1). Despite a call to modify the curriculum for secondary education as well, reform of the more than 36,000 secondary schools has been slow (System of the Education of Ukraine, 2001).

Special Education in Ukraine

For many years, children with developmental problems, sensory disorders, brain dysfunction, and complex disorders have remained at the margins of the Ukrainian regular education system or have been excluded from it. These children are educated by a separate, special school system, which consists of independent institutions, many of them operating as boarding schools (Csanyi, 2004). In 2004, 1.8 percent of the children in Ukraine were registered as having disabilities. The Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science reported that during the 2005-06 academic year, 54,100 children with special education needs received education in 396 special schools (Open Society Institute and Soros Foundation Network, 2006). Special schools serve children with specific disabilities (such as physical disabilities), mental retardation, sensory disabilities (such as visual impairment or blindness, and deafness or hearing impairments), social-emotional needs, and health needs. These boarding schools prepare children educationally and socially, and many offer work rehabilitation. Most special schools offer 6 to 12 years of schooling, although some children with special needs, such as blindness and hearing impairments, may now study for 13 years (Bondar, 2004).

In 1995, Ukraine ratified the European Convention for Human Rights, granting social protection to its citizens with disabilities. However, the law did not extend to equality in education. Because of this, one of the most heated, and polarizing, topics in the education reform "movement" has been the concept of educational and social inclusion of children with special needs.

Inclusion at the Primary and Secondary School Levels

Teaching children with special needs with peers in regular education settings, called integration or inclusion, began to gain some national attention in the late 1990s (Bondar, 2004; Open Society Institute and Soros Foundation Network, 2006; Zasenko, 2004). The issue has been driven by movements for civil rights from outside international forces, such as UNESCO (1994) and the Open Society Institute and Soros Foundation Network (2006). Although a few international projects are attempting to change public opinion regarding integration, most ministry representatives and families of children with disabilities believe the present system of segregated special boarding schools should continue (Bondar, 2004).

In the spring of 2006, representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science, Committee for Science and Education of the Parliament of Ukraine, the Academy of Pedagogical Science of Ukraine, nongovernmental organizations, state education institutions, and representatives of eight foreign countries (Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, and Hungary) held a conference to discuss policy recommendations for inclusive education and to exchange information about practices, development, and implementation of inclusive education in their countries. To advance implementation of inclusion in Ukraine, participants made the following recommendations to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education:

* Systematize the collection of statistical data to correspond with the international approach to disability classification

* Accept the philosophy of inclusive education at the state policy level and change legislative documents

* Accept the concept of inclusion, and begin the development of reforms at all levels of the education system

* Develop a coordinating center for the development of inclusive education, with representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry for Health Protection, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Family and Youth, other civic organizations, and parents of children with special needs (Raver, in press).

To lobby for the adoption of these recommendations, a series of regional seminars were planned and a public relations campaign organized to raise the public's understanding of the possible positive outcomes of inclusive education. Although these proposals are encouraging, a strong cultural resistance to implementing inclusive practices nationally may prove difficult to overcome (Raver, in press; Vilkos, 2005).

Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation. The most effective work in inclusion today is being conducted by the Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation, a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that promotes the process of democratic reform in education. This foundation fosters quality education for all children, especially children with special needs and other underserved children (Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation, 2003). During 2005-06, the International Renaissance Foundation's Education Program, with partner support from the Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation, implemented a country-wide project aimed at changing national policy on the education of children with special needs. The project supports several pilot integration programs. In this experiment, children with special needs participate in fully integrated and partially integrated settings. In partially integrated settings, children with disabilities have contact with their typically developing peers, primarily through social, extracurricular activities (Bondar, 2004).

Since being launched in 1999, the Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation has implemented demonstration integration programs in 17 of Ukraine's 25 regions, reaching more than 15,500 children and their families (Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation, 2003). Primary and secondary school-age children with disabilities have been integrated into existing schools, although a few new inclusion schools have been established. The type and amount of support given to teachers and students in these schools varies from site to site. It is too soon to evaluate the outcomes of this project, which is scheduled to continue for several years. The project approaches reform with three programs: 1) teacher training, 2) inclusion, and 3) educating minorities.

* Teacher Training Program. This project provides basic and advanced courses to teachers working in traditional and inclusive classrooms. Training is provided in disability awareness, accommodative practices, and instructional organization. Ongoing consultations for preschool, primary and secondary school teachers, school administrators, university teachers, and parents also are provided.

* Inclusion of Children With Special Needs Program: Related Issues. This project offers teacher training, seminars, roundtable discussions, conferences, and published materials to governmental and nongovernmental organizations dealing with issues concerning the integration of children with special needs into active Ukrainian life. The specific services offered depend on schools' stated needs. Additionally, efforts to increase disability awareness and improve public attitudes regarding integration are conducted through roundtable discussions, films, and published materials.

Education of Minorities Program. This project offers teacher training, seminars, roundtable discussions, and conferences in regions with the highest percentage of diversity to promote appropriate, culturally sensitive practices. Frequently, the national minorities who are the subject of these programs have been denied consistent access to educational services in the past.

Despite programs like these, Ukraine currently lacks the necessary legislative and economic framework to make inclusion viable and has a limited pool of skilled personnel to teach in inclusive programs (Kolupayeva, 2004).

Barriers to Inclusion in Ukraine

Many in Ukraine are still holding on to the promises of the 2004 Orange Revolution and President Yushchenko's declaration that Ukraine was on a trajectory to conform to European norms and values (Bernardo & Silber, 2005). Some hoped that this trajectory would involve the restructuring of the general and special education systems (Bondar, 2004). Unfortunately, many educators, administrators, and families worry that, several years later, restructuring and inclusion have not moved very far on the path from rhetoric to real action (Institute of Special Pedagogy, 2004).

The implementation of inclusion in Ukraine faces many significant barriers. Inclusive education, when done appropriately, can be more expensive than the present education system. This is a formidable challenge for a country that struggles to meet its everyday operating needs. As Alla Kolupayeva, Scientific Secretary of the Institute of Special Pedagogy, reported in 2004: "Only an economically stable and developed country can afford to mainstream the majority of its children with special needs" (p. 143). Without the financial support of organizations outside Ukraine, it is unclear how inclusive education could be funded. At the present time, inclusion in Ukraine must contend with unreliable governmental policies and funding, historically negative public attitudes toward individuals with differences, and a limited infrastructure to support inclusive practices.

Inconsistent Governmental Policy and Funding.

To move forward with inclusion, Ukraine must have an explicit policy statement from its central education ministries supporting inclusion. A coordinated action from several national ministries in Ukraine, including Education and Science, Health Protection, and Social Policy, is necessary to develop this policy. Unfortunately, these ministries do not have a history of collaboration and cooperation. Therefore, it is unclear if, or when, a national policy will be devised, or if the financial support needed for implementation will be identified or dispersed.

Negative Public Attitudes Regarding Disabilities.

Only about 58 percent of regular education teachers and 15 percent of special education teachers supported Ukraine's first country-wide experiment with integration in 2000 (Kolupayeva, 2004). It appears that attitudes have changed little since then. For inclusion to be successful, a supportive public attitude toward individual differences is essential. Part of the problem seems to be that many citizens believe that "typical" children and adults are presently not receiving appropriate educational and economic support, and consequently worry that less will be provided if individuals with disabilities begin to take a share of the country's very limited resources. Despite this, as a nation, Ukraine's rhetoric appears to support a willingness to change cultural biases against individuals with disabilities. In truth, real changes in societal attitudes will undoubtedly take time, maybe generations--as they have in other countries.

Limited Infrastructure To Support Inclusion Implementation. Effective inclusive education requires mandatory primary, secondary, and higher education teacher training in curricula and material adaptation, instructional organization, and accommodative strategies. Class size must be considered, appropriate differentiated materials must be available, and additional adults may be needed in classrooms to support individualization of instruction. None of these supports exist in Ukrainian schools. Most of the model inclusion projects use educational methods from the United States and Europe that may or may not be culturally appropriate. Although governmental ministries are aware of most of these needs, replicable educational research in Ukraine is lacking, largely because data are managed differently in each ministry and evaluations of programs and methodology are rare (Kolupayeva, 2004).

Ukraine's education system undoubtedly has come a long way since independence. Ukraine has an excellent disabilities rights law; however, the law is largely ignored. Despite advances in protecting and respecting individuals with disabilities, attitudes toward disabilities can still be severe, negative, and isolating (Vilkos, 2005). In spite of these challenges, international funding for model inclusion programs has given Ukraine, and other countries with an interest in inclusion, a chance to experience both the positive and negative aspects of this model. As Ukraine moves forward in its human rights efforts and its goal of becoming a truly egalitarian society, decision-makers must be reflective about education reforms. They must be cautious and embrace changes that are economically viable and enjoy community support. By approaching inclusion in this way, Ukraine, and other nations making this journey, will find that they are in the proper position to do the right thing for children with, and without, disabilities.


Benardo, L., & Silber, L. (2005). Ukraine's dream is not dead--yet. The Globe and Mail (New York), October 6.

Bondar, V. (2004). Special education for disabled people in Ukraine: Innovation and experiments. Modern trends of special education development (Canada- Ukraine experience) (pp. 99-106). Kyiv, Ukraine and Edmonton, Canada: Open University-University "Ukraine."

Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. (2003). Ukraine. Retrieved January 5, 2005, from

Csanyi, Y. (2004). Experience of transforming education provision for children with disabilities in central European countries. Budapest: ELTE University.

Institute of Special Pedagogy. (2004). Modern trends of special education development. Kyiv, Ukraine/Edmonton, Canada: University of Alberta Press.

Kolupayeva, A. (2004). Trends in the integration of special education in Ukraine. Modern trends of special education development (Canada-Ukraine experience) (pp. 142-146). Kyiv, Ukraine- Edmonton, Canada: Naukowy Swit.

Korsak, K. (1998). Evolution of continuous education in Ukraine (1990-1998). International Personnel Academy, National University/Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Retrieved July 5, 2006, from Warsaw1998/ukraina

Open Society Institute and Soros Foundation Network. (2006). Educational policy toward inclusion. Retrieved July 2, 2006, from

Raver, S. A. (in press). Comparisons of attitudes regarding university inclusion among students with disabilities in the United States and Ukraine. Journal of International Special Needs Education.

Raver, S. A. (2006). Educational policy toward inclusion: International experience and Ukrainian Perspectives. Building a Global Alliance for Open Society Conference, Kyiv, Ukraine. Retrieved June 15, 2006, from www.soros. org/initiatives/esp/events/educational

System of the Education of Ukraine. (2001). Retrieved August 15, 2006, from

Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation. (2003). Retrieved July 1, 2006, from

UNESCO. (1994). The Salamanca statement and framework for action on special needs education. Paris: UNESCO. Vilkos, Y. (2005). Disabled facing outdated attitudes. Kyiv Post, 12(22), 3.

World Factbook, The. (2006). Retrieved July 5, 2006, from,

Zasenko, V. (2004). Special education in Ukraine: Current conditions and the search for new perspectives. Modern trends of special education development (Canada-Ukraine experience) (pp. 121-126). Kyiv, Ukraine-Edmonton, Canada: Open University-University "Ukraine."

Sharon A Raver is Professor, Department of Special Education, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virgina Kateryna Kolchenko is Prorector of Science and Foreign Affairs, Open International University of Human Development "Ukraine," Kyiv, Ukraine,
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Author:Raver, Sharon A.; Kolchenko, Kateryna
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Aug 15, 2007
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