The first visit of representatives of Karin Dom in Iceland took place. The visit is part of the activities of the project Transfer of Practices to Improve Support for Children with Special Needs and Their Families towards Inclusive Education, funded by the Active Citizens Fund.
Thanks to our project partner, the State Diagnostic and Counselling Center, Karin Dom’s representatives were able to visit various services in different cities in Iceland and get to know first-hand the main benefits of their inclusive education system. The State Diagnostic and Counselling Center is the only one in Iceland to help children with problems be diagnosed and referred for health, education and social services. The system is different, supportive and caring for people’s well-being. With specially designed government policies, economically profitable, for inclusive education for children. Because “no inclusion, no progress!”. A system based on values, mutual respect and focus on children and the best interests of the family.
Within a week, professionals and parents representing Karin Dom participated in a number of fruitful meetings and visits – met with a representative of the Ministry of Education, visited a diagnostic center, treatment centers, special schools, 4 kindergartens, 1 children’s hospital and 2 schools in different cities in Iceland for the sole purpose of seeing how their health, education and social systems interact in order to put into practice what we are striving for in Bulgaria – inclusion of children with special educational needs and disabilities in society.
As a result of team visits and meetings with representatives of various organizations, centers and schools, we can derive the main benefits of their inclusive education system – excellent cross-sector cooperation, tolerance, acceptance and mutual respect. In Iceland, equality is paramount for children. The Icelandic school is an environment that is responsive to the needs of all children, where there is room for those who need specific support. They use very skillfully the natural curiosity of children and their desire to get to know the world around them through their own experience. They stimulate creativity, communication, practical skills, sports activities. The whole learning process goes through the game, but the formalities, the exact schedules, the endless homework, the tension, the bells – just aren’t there. The atmosphere is as at home, and children have the opportunity to spend their time choosing between different small group activities. Everything happens spontaneously and naturally, in accordance with the rhythm of the child and his abilities and interests. Books are all around the children and as long as they want they can read at any time. It is no accident that Icelanders are one of the most read nations.
Schools, centers and kindergartens feature impressive infrastructure and facilities that allow children with special needs access to all rooms and facilities in the building. Visits to kindergartens and schools in the city of Arkansas were also extremely rewarding for the team, which met with principals and teachers, discussing how they work with special needs children in the mass groups and why they do not have “special” groups and “special” kindergartens. The perception is that every child is different – whether he or she is a migrant child, a refugee, a child without a mother, a father or in a family of separated parents, whether he or she has cerebral palsy or movement problems, or is simply difficult to deal with. relax and talk with other children – each child has specific needs at different stages of development and the educational institution’s team is there to meet and support them. It is normal for principals and teachers to have different children and look for ways to support their individual needs. There are regular team meetings and all stakeholders to plan steps and ways to influence and adapt the environment to the child.
The country’s schools and colleges are free of charge and university fees are very low, making education accessible to everyone. Children who are diagnosed are not always the ones most in need of care simply because the environment is adapted in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. It is interesting in kindergartens that the work with children is carried out on the floor, using virtually and flexibly any space. In progressive schools, there are no clocks and bells, everyone learns by doing, puts on their headphones if they are noisy, or have a private space with a divider. Children with special needs are among all, and sometimes they do not recognize each other, and in the common activity they learn and play together in a supportive environment. Children are encouraged to experiment, explore, discover, choose, make mistakes.
The team also had the opportunity to visit Barnaspítali Hringsins Children’s Hospital, located in the capital Reykjavik – with a children’s playground, a library, aquariums with ornamental fish and professionals respecting and caring for children’s health. An idealistic picture of a children’s hospital – one that every developed country in the world deserves.