Schools for Asia - Stories from the field
Connecting without barriers: Inclusive schools for children with disabilities
It was an early morning, the time when children gathered at the playground of Dien Hong Primary School. Laughter, shouts, and yells – nothing very different compared with any other crowded playground. Same energy, same excitement. Only when you talked to them did you realize that some are children with disabilities living in Da Nang.
It was ‘exchange day’ for 400 children with and without disabilities from various mainstream primary schools in the city, as well as from the Tuong Lai Specialized School and the Inclusive Education Resource Centre (IERC) of Da Nang. They gathered on the theme of ‘connecting love’ with the shared goal of creating a safe, inclusive, and respectful space for children with and without disabilities to connect with each other and to develop the soft skills needed in any interpersonal relationship. The event was also designed to demonstrate to all the schools that currently do not enrol children with disabilities how inclusive schools have effectively integrated this particular group of children.
The activities of the day were fruitful and diverse – ranging from painting, to building blocks, to handcrafting, to teambuilding games – all designed to connect children from diverse backgrounds to play together. Through the act of playing, children were provided with the space to communicate, work in teams, and learn how to relate harmoniously with each other.
“At first, it was intimidating to talk to each other as I did not know how to begin, but once we started the game, we slowly played side-to-side,” said Nguyen, a Grade 5 student.
"I was uncomfortable teaching children with disabilities as I did not know how to react. However, I quickly learned that children love sports. Now, we are like one team, one family."
While all activities were greatly enjoyed by the students, dancing with music was definitely the highlight of the day. When the energetic Vietnamese music started playing, children stormed the stage and moved their bodies with joy. “I love music and dance,” declared Trong Hai, a 7-year-old with Down syndrome. From his smile, it seems that music is a naturally engaging language that can break down any barriers.
Tran Thanh Thu, a professional working at the IERC of Da Nang, declared how pleased she was that students with disabilities were getting along so well with their peers. She recalled a time when some parents would object to having their child associate with a student with a disability, but happily times have changed, and today there is far greater acceptance of diversity.
Doan Van Thanh, a sports teacher, was watching students playing football while he told us his story. “I admit that at first I was uncomfortable teaching children with disabilities, as I did not know how to react,” he said. “However, I quickly learned that they equally love sports. Now, we are like one team, one family,” he added with a chuckle.
UNICEF recognizes that children with disabilities are one of the most marginalized and excluded groups in society. With support from SM Entertainment and the Korean Committee for UNICEF, UNICEF has collaborated with the Da Nang Department of Education and Training to strengthen equity and inclusiveness in quality education for all by supporting the IERC for children with disabilities. As such, IERC specialists were able to visit mainstream schools that accommodated students with disabilities, and to coach teachers on how to tailor their support to the needs of those students. Further, thanks to the generosity of SM Entertainment, the Music Therapy Room in the IERC in Da Nang is now equipped to provide quality musical therapy for children with disabilities.