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U of U Trains Bosnians to Teach Students with Disabilities in Inclusive Settings

July 8, 2003 — In the near future thousands of children with disabilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will reap the benefits of being educated in inclusive, general education programs, thanks to a joint project between the University of Utah, the University of Maryland, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation and the Bosnian and Herzegovinian government.

Four Bosnians-one administrator, two speech therapists and one special education teacher-have spent the past five months at the two American universities learning effective practices to facilitate the inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities, autism and multiple disabilities into general education classrooms.

“Right now there is a big educational reform in Bosnia,” says Vesna Bajsanski, the coordinator of the first project on inclusive education in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “One of the requirements of the reform is that inclusion must be instituted. Currently our children with special needs have all of the services, but they are in completely segregated schools or self-contained classrooms in general education schools. For two years the Bosnian Educational Authorities have been working on it. Our biggest challenge is that teachers still don’t know how to work in inclusive settings.

“So our main task here was to develop modules for training teachers to educate children with special needs in regular-or inclusive-classrooms,” says Bajsanski, adding that experts in Bosnia will review the modules, based on those from the University of Utah and the University of Maryland. Then the four educators, all under age 30, will spend three years training other educators throughout their country.

Mike Hardman, Chair of the University’s Department of Special Education and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Education, is a strong proponent of inclusion and explains that students with and without disabilities benefit from inclusive programs when teachers are trained in research-validated practices and students receive the supports necessary to succeed. “Inclusive programs that involve collaboration among general and special education teachers, peer support and cooperative learning, as well as the use of effective instructional practices better prepare these students to live in the community and to be competitively employed following school,” says Hardman, who is also the senior education advisor to the Kennedy Foundation, a organization established on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities.

The cooperative project began in 1996, following the war in Bosnia. UNICEF and the Kennedy Foundation funded two American professors to travel to Bosnia to assist in re-establishing education programs. Over the next four years American educators conducted special education training seminars and supervised and supported about 300 teachers. Since Bosnian universities were unable to meet the demand for new special education teachers, UNICEF and the Bosnian and Herzegovinian government decided to establish teacher academies staffed by professionals who had trained in the U.S. The four Bosnian teachers who came to the U.S. are the first to be trained.

After a national search, Bajsanski and her three traveling companions- Lejla Redzepagic, Helena Arbutina and Sanela Teodorovic- were chosen by the Bosnian government to come to the United States for specialized training. They spent two months at the University of Maryland and working in the Maryland public schools and another two months working with University of Utah faculty and observing and working with students with disabilities in the Murray School District.

“UNICEF wanted these teachers to see strong, inclusive special education programs where students with disabilities were being successfully educated in general education schools and classrooms,” Hardman explains, adding that while here the Bosnian teachers shared information about their culture with the students and educators with whom they worked.

Kathy Hill, clinical instructor in the U’s Department of Special Education, and Monica Ferguson, an adjunct faculty member and preservice coordinator for the Utah State Improvement Grant in the State Office of Education, scheduled all of the field contacts in the Murray School District and provided additional training to the Bosnians. Hill notes that the Bosnians spent about 30 hours a week at Liberty and Grant Elementary Schools in “hands-on” activities, such as adapting curriculum, co-teaching with general education teachers and assisting special education teachers. While the majority of their time was spent in elementary schools, the Bosnian visitors also observed preschool deaf and blind programs through the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, early intervention programs in the Jordan School District and how assistive technology and augmentative communication devices are employed for students who need help communicating. They also observed transition programs for young adults with disabilities, ages 18 to 22, which prepare them for post-school life as well as how Utahns prepare students for employment settings, job training, financial skills and independent living.

“We are grateful to all of the faculty, staff and schools for sharing their experience with us. We hope that the information we received will be useful in our efforts in promoting inclusive education in Bosnia,” says Bajsanski.

Hardman says, “The special education faculty at the University of Utah are proud that we are playing a role in preparing new teachers to educate students with disabilities throughout Bosnia. We anticipate that our work in Bosnia will continue for many years to come.

Onsite photos available upon request.