Distance Education Is Not Inclusive 

We’ve talked to Buket Sönmez from Teachers Network, Esin Koman from FİSA Children's Rights Center and Hüsamettin Akyıldız from the Association Of Rights For Children Requiring Special Education about the inclusiveness in distance education especially for special education students, students without access to the internet and for children / students with language barriers.

With the schools being shut down after the coronavirus epidemic the children / students have switched to distance education. However, not every child can benefit from it equally. What do you think about it?

Buket Sönmez: In line with the precautions and measures taken within the scope of the struggle we switched to distance education which is a new phenomenon for all of us. Although distance education is an important step towards continuing education in this crisis, many children cannot access the internet and / or are deprived of education because they do not have TVs in their home. Our common goal is to provide inclusive education. The systemic transformation we need for inclusive distance education will be shaped by the experiences we have gained in this process. The distance education experience we have through the epidemic disease has the potential to shape the future of education in Turkey.

Esin Koman: It is not possible to say exactly anything about whether every child benefits from this system equally. Because no data has been received from the Ministry of Education. Or the users have not stated anything yet. But when looking at our past experiences and evaluating the country’s child policies, it is not possible to think that there is an equal spread or use.

Because we do not know whether there is an inclusive practice, we do not have such information. But we know that the participation of children in non-formal and formal education is quite limited. If we set out from here, any work that is not done with a inclusive model or any program that is not prepared together with children, will not be able to fully achieve its purpose.

Because children are not standard or uniform or at the same age, etc. The needs of each child will differ because their characteristics and development are different as well as their attention span or living conditions. And they will need different support mechanisms.

Conditions of accessing education may differ for many reasons. Childrens’ physical conditions such as disability or illness, places they live (prisons, refugee status, poverty) and living conditions (being employed or not) are very different. So I can’t think it’s inclusive and equal, but I would have wanted it to be.

Hüsamettin  Akyıldız: It is possible to call education at home a disaster as even the problems in the school environment of children who require special education are not well on track. Because parents who have children who need special education do not know enough. Unfortunately, programs developed on this subject are also very limited.

This state of inequality is not just economic. Individual differences, disabilities, etc. come into play as well. What problems will this cause at the end of the process?

Buket Sönmez: Inclusive education is a process that proposes the re-organization of education to respond to the needs of all children regardless of the characteristics or conditions of educational institutions and processes such as gender, ethnicity, language, religion, settlement, health status or socioeconomic status. Distance education needs to respond not only to the socioeconomic situations, but also to the differences and needs of children. The Association of Visually Impaired Education had shared an hashtag in social media in order to draw attention to the fact that the security code on the login screen of EBA (Education Information Network) does not have an audible alternative and therefore distance education is not accessible. This call by the association to provide inclusive education via social media received feedback and the security code on the login screen of EBA has been made accessible to everyone. With such initiatives of civil society and other stakeholders of education it is possible to make significant changes to ensure inclusion in distance education.

Esin Koman: Most importantly, there will be no fair access, children will face discriminatory practice. In other words, not every child will be able to access this program, according to their conditions. This will be an application that eliminates equality. And children who cannot access may feel excluded. They may feel unsuccessful because they cannot access the information that their peers can. Of course, the problem is not only economical, but its about fair access and not meeting the needs of each child.

Hüsamettin Akyıldız: Individuals with disabilities and their families who have always felt excluded will feel more excluded during stay-at-home process. Special education is a process that requires continuity and does not tolerate breaks or delays. It is possible that all the efforts of teachers and parents who have been struggling for months maybe years in order to give one behavior, can suddenly go to waste. Nobody knows what children and families are going through in this “stay at home” process.

What should be done to survive this process with minimum damage? What is the duty of whom? How should there be a more inclusive education process?

Buket Sönmez: Teachers Network is a network based on the idea that the change we need in education can be created with a collective effect. We need to embrace the power of collective influence more than ever in times of crisis like this. Because in today’s world, no problem is as simple as an institution can solve on its own. We can only overcome the negative effects of coronavirus epidemic by coming together as education stakeholders and by acting with a common mind.

Esin Koman: In fact, we are still in a crisis period. And, of course, in order to overcome this crisis period, the state must fulfill its responsibilities. First of all, the responsibility belongs to the state. In line with basic principles such as the best interests of the child, not being discriminated against, and equality, things should be done within this framework. The state plans the basis for this. It’s a good thing that the EBA program comes into play. But it must go on. All details should be considered so that each child can access this program. For this, interdisciplinary working groups can be created including educators, parents, children, field experts, those with technical knowledge and communicators. So this is a team work. And it is important for the people who represent every situation and condition to be in these groups. Children with disabilities, refugee children, children being treated in the hospital, children in prison … So people with experience on these should be included in these working groups. Under what conditions can children use this system? For example, if they are receiving treatment in the hospital, will they be able to access the system, or under what conditions children or refugee children who stay in prisons can access the system; these should be known and this program should be structured according to this information. For example, there is such an information: Can the child of a woman with a protection order that was taken due to violence against women have access to this program? There is a confidentiality decision, but some data needs to be given in order to enter the system for example, we do not know about this.

Hüsamettin Akyıldız: In order to survive this period with the least amount of damage, everyone has a duty including teachers, rehabilitation centers and the whole society, especially the state institutions and municipalities. The children with special educational needs can be cheered up and motivated through simple and fun activities by meeting teachers in public schools as well as teachers and parents at rehabilitation centers. We know that teachers working in rehabilitation centers and teachers working in other schools try to do this. Rehabilitation centers have made important contributions in terms of bringing individuals with special needs into society and making them feel valued. Thanks to this, there is almost none inaccessible people with disabilities. The main danger is that if the rehabilitation centers are not supported by the state in this process or if many institutions will be shut down, the most affected will be the with disabilities and their families.

In crisis periods, disadvantaged groups feel these crises more heavily. I want to talk about the issue of the crisis triggering the problems of these disadvantaged groups. Maybe we can talk about refugees or language etc.

Esin Koman: It is very important to protect everyone from this crisis in a rights-based manner during times of crisis. It is not enough to set up a single system and say this is OK. The system should be considered separately for each person and it should be structured to be open to everyone. Here, the point of view of the state towards the disabled and the refugee policies, its perception of children or of the situation of Romani children is very important. In other words, the state should deliver this service to all segments on an equal basis, without any discrimination and it should consider that it will reach every child.

However, in states that do not fulfill their responsibilities as a social state this is always incomplete, and groups at risk cannot fully benefit from the services provided or are never reached. In fact, the condition of living together and overcoming the crises all together is very much about understanding everyone and fully protecting everyone from these processes. Most importantly, a holistic child policy is very important here. A child policy that can operate and be implemented at any time under any condition is required. In addition, such systems need to be monitored. It is really important to track how this service reaches children or how children use this service and what they encounter while using it by an independent monitoring that would be carried out by field experts and the civil society. It is also important to collect data and receive feedback from children and parents.