We joined this project because we believe that the education of children with special needs is a great challenge for Croatian education. In our opinion, the biggest problem of Croatian education is that the teachers who teach children with special needs in regular schools are not educated enough in this particular area, as well as the lack of material conditions that make it very difficult to implement inclusion in regular schooling. We wanted to find out how other countries of the EU have addressed the challenges in the education of SEN students and to which extent the inclusion is present in our partner schools. Three regular schools and three special schools took part in the project.
Our first visit was to Istanbul, where we visited the special school Metin Sabanci, private elementary school for children with cerebral palsy. It is mostly funded by the Metin Sabanci Foundation. The school is technologically highly equipped and fully adapted to SEN students. We had the opportunity to stay in sensory integration rooms, and afterwards we applied these experiences in our school work to some extent. We believe that the sensory room in regular primary schools would significantly contribute to the quality of education of SEN students. In Poland we visited the town of Bytom and the special school Podstawowa. All planned activities focused on how to teach students with special needs and on how to promote their developmental skills and social inclusion. Although the Polish education system supports inclusion in regular schools with individualized programs for each child, special education schools still has a significant place. Through the activities they prepared, we got acquainted with Biofeedback therapy, Art therapy and the application of technology in teaching. We believe that Biofeedback therapy is an extremely useful method that helps children to achieve learning outcomes more easily, and that in Croatia it should be applied in regular schools, and not only within healthcare institutions. In Italy, we were in Montorio Romano - in the regular elementary school Instituto comprensivo Giuliano Giorgi. Italy is one of the European countries with a long tradition of inclusion in regular education. The characteristic of their education system is that in the classrooms attended by children with special needs they have two teachers, one of whom only attends to those with special educational needs. Furthermore, in their education system, there is constant care and support for the education of children with special needs even during high school and college. This approach results in a culture of social sensitivity and acceptance of people with special needs in everyday life. Mobility in Italy was focused on the development of emotional intelligence and acceptance of diversity. After conducting the workshop on emotions, we concluded that in regular schooling too little importance is given to children's feelings and emotional states, and so we now regularly implement these workshops in our classes. Mobilities to Portugal and Slovenia were virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The host partners prepared the virtual activities well and we gained a good insight into their education systems. Portugal is a country whose education system has autonomy from city or state authorities. SEN students are integrated into regular schools and each school has a Learning Support Center that provides support to teachers and children. They introduced us to a storytelling workshop - Kamishibai. We applied it in our work with 1st grade students. The children responded extremely well to this storytelling method, and we will include it more often in the teaching process. The Slovenian education system has inclusion, but also a strong system of special schools. The uniqueness of their system are mobile teams, i.e. teachers who are employees of special schools, but work in rehabilitation and provide support to SEN students in regular schools. They do not have their home school where they work every day, but are instead field teachers and are tied to specific children in different schools who need their support. This type of support for children with special needs is extremely well designed because children within their regular school and during regular school hours perform rehabilitation with professionals. This contributes significantly to the quality of their education. Experiential learning is another quality characteristic of the Slovenian education system, which is underrepresented in the Croatian education system.
Through this project we had an excellent opportunity to get to know and implement different methods of working with SEN students and thus progress in our own pedagogical work.We are extremely satisfied with the project management and cooperation with the coordinators of the partner countries.We communicated almost daily, and even in these demanding times we supported each other in performing all project and educational activities.
The IDEA project was developed, in its conception, implementation and evaluation, in an organized, well-oriented way, with fulfillment of the proposed objectives as well as all the activities outlined, either in essence or in the estimated time, as described in the general report. Thus, no irregularities are registered.
On the contrary, the good coordination of the project is highlighted, both at the level of the international and national partnership – by each country coordinator. There was a good atmosphere, both online and in person during the LTT, good work collaborative and constant articulation between the partners, which resulted in the successful completion of the project.
In financial terms, it is considered that all expenses incurred were in accordance with the forecast, with no extra expenses or deficit, as recorded in the Mobility Tool platform.
The slight changes to the initial plan were due to the pandemic situation that we are experiencing, described as follows:
- in LTT Portugal we lacked two partners, a virtual mobility was subsequently carried out to supply this situation at the request of the project coordinator - a request that we immediately attended to by preparing an e-mobility that corresponded, as far as possible, to the physical LTT;
- LTT to Slovenia was postponed for one year and finally converted to e-mobility;
- We also received two teachers from a partner country on jobshadowing regime, which was not included in the initial project but derived from the good relations and inclusion practices that we shared and fostered in our cluster/country;
- as a coordinator I also participated, outside the project but as a result, in representation of the Portuguese reality in the symposium Building Bridges for Inclusive Education Project - Special Education with All Its Aspects from Inclusion to Integration Symposium, organized by the partner school in Turkey – this sharing generated the attention of the participants and questions were asked in the final debate.
In terms of impact in our school, and given the theme of the project, it was found that the dissemination sessions post LTT, that we temporarily promoted, the activities that involved the community, the information disseminated in the dissemination channels of the cluster and local newspapers, captivated the attention of the community, raising awareness to different European realities and yet to common problems. The different responses of each school/partner reflect the educational policies of their countries, with inclusion being desired and recognized by all but treated distinctly. Three partners effectively practice inclusion in the "normal" school, with slight specificities between themselves, while the other three partners work in special schools for students with difficulties/disabilities. Practices with students turn out to be similar, even though they depend on public investment by each government and on the skills, competence and creativity of the professionals involved, which fostered sharing and joint discussion on the topic. Throughout the project's implementation, the team was always supported by the school direction board, by the collaboration of other professionals, internal and external to the institution, but responsible for social inclusion and local institutions, as well as other from national institutions.
Finally, the replication by each partner of some activities observed in the different LTT allowed greaterinvolvement and attention, making us more reflective and critical towards other practices, experiences, resources and strategies. The realization, at a distance, but simultaneously, of celebrations of ephemeris alluding to the theme, by example, allowed us to “feel” that we were promoting a single cause for equality and equity in our local communities but, on a large scale, contributing to the development of European citizenship and Sustainable Development Goals, in our school and its professionals, aware that the whole is made by the parts.
This project fulfilled, disseminated and promoted good practices, multiculturalism, affection, communication, digital literacy, respect, equity, among others, fostering bonds of friendship and collaborative work towards an education not only inclusive but also European, with future effects and partnerships for sure!
There was no lack of opportunities for recreation and fun (many, in fact...) during our dinners or culinary-cultural exchanges, especially or during the bus journey between one place and another!!! Songs, games, dances... moments that will remain etched in the mind forever; visits to the most important cities in our countries: historical, archaeological and cultural sites where the vision of such beauty became a motivating force to continue the journey towards the discovery of different places and cultures, harbingers of knowledge and continuous learning.A constant stimulus to open our local and national horizons towards the unknown world, rich in educational experiences, personal and community growth through the transmission of our own acquisitions upon return from each mobility. The exchange of good practices was an opportunity to meet new friends, to weave new and positive relationships between fellow travellers united by the desire to help those who, in their own path of growth, have greater difficulties.
The commitment of all of us has been to understand each other's needs and requirements, to embrace their difficulties (linguistic, physical, emotional, logistical, etc.) and to encourage them to continue their journey together. We have embodied our own motto: I.D.E.A.! TOGETHER WE CAN!!! This has united us and will keep us close in a bond that goes beyond the experience of a convention. The Erasmus + Project encompasses all the knowledge that passes through life experiences, which touch all the sensitive chords of the being.
Our senses allowed us to see, touch, hear, taste, smell in a deeper way, adding greater awareness to our actions, among adults and in the teacher-pupil relationship. The store of prior knowledge was greatly enriched, as were the relationships between all the members of the group. A unique experience!
A special dedication for Tanja, our main coordinator
It has been an honour to be guided in our project by a woman who is so determined to make us feel like a team. You have given us the motivation, the right stimuli to work in our classes and to achieve better results thanks to the methodologies learned in the various mobilities. Our exchanges have encouraged an enrichment of good practices in school but also in daily life. We feel part of a whole that has grown together under your direction. You have been our compass, you have shown us the way and guided us with patience and great organisational skills. Thank you thank you thank you.
The whole project process was very instructive for our organization. We have used different funds from different mechanisms before. For the first time, we had the chance to implement an Erasmus+ Project as a School with this project. Since we had our first school project experience, there were some areas where we had some difficulties.
As an organization, we hosted the first mobility of the project. We tried to prepare a full program as much as we could. What we observed in other mobilities opened our horizons a lot. The next time we host a project meeting, we have much more creative ideas in mind. This actually shows how strong the educational side of the project is.
We have established a very good communication with all project partners. As an organization, we got to know other partners in this project apart from the coordinator. It's good that we met. We can establish different collaborations between us in the future. We have already started to create different collaborations apart from this project.