6.6 Social inclusion through education and training
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The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth 2020 Annual Report states that the inclusion of children with special needs is a matter of major policy for the Ministry. Children with special needs are educated in public schools equipped with suitable infrastructure, according to the Laws for Special Education. The majority of children with special educational needs are educated within mainstream classrooms. However, children with severe difficulties are educated in the nine Special Schools, which are staffed with appropriate personnel (teachers for learning, intellectual, functional and adjustment difficulties, psychologists, speech therapists, nurses, physiotherapists and other specialists, as well as auxiliary staff), in order to provide high quality therapy, education and support. Based on the 2020 Annual Report of the Ministry (Ετήσια Έκθεση 2020), the approved public budget of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth for Special Education in 2020 was €10 139 000 and includes expenses, such as the employment of teaching, therapeutic and auxiliary personnel, training and professional development of staff, the provision of specialised equipment for classrooms and individual children, the modification of buildings to provide accessibility, the transportation of children with special needs to and from school and to out-of-school activities, the running expenses of Special Schools, etc.
A series of seminars regarding special education is being developed to assist all teachers support children with special needs during their classes. All teachers are encouraged to attend courses of professional development (Προγράμματα – Σεμινάρια) run by the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute. Attendance at in-service seminars is compulsory whilst attendance at local seminars is encouraged. A series of pedagogical discussions - meetings are being held in order to help teachers, counsellors and liaison officers in each school to deal with pupils with special needs in the best possible way. Educational psychologists, university teachers and other specialists are called to carry out these professional meetings.
As the majority of children with special needs attend mainstream schools, those in the special education schools present the greatest learning difficulties. Hence, the curricula (Ειδική Εκπαίδευσης – Εκπαιδευτικό Υλικό) of such schools contain a major element of skills development in the areas of self-help and independence skills, social and emotional interaction, recreation and communication as well as vocational training. Where a child is able to follow elements of the mainstream curriculum, this is provided for. The content of the curriculum, the subjects taught, and the period of provision are decided by the individual school. There is no element of compulsory or optional curriculum. A pupil will study what he/she is able to.
For more information regarding Special Education in Cyprus, please visit the relevant section in the Eurydice website (Chapter 12) and the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education.
Support measures for integrating migrant (including refugee) children
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth has recently developed and implemented an upgraded educational policy pertaining to Multicultural Education, aiming at the smooth integration of pupils with migrant background into the educational system of Cyprus. The Ministry departments of all educational levels along with the Pedagogical Institute have developed an action plan with a variety of targeted actions, through the prism of an intercultural approach, anti-racist education, and the methodology of teaching Greek as a second language. The policy focuses on five priorities which guide actions and programmes in this field: 1. learning the Greek language 2. reception of newly arrived children with a migrant background 3. Teachers’ education and continuing professional development 4. collection and analysis of data on the needs of pupils with migrant background 5. an intercultural approach in the new curricula. Based on the 2020 Annual Report of the Ministry, under the 2nd priority of the above-mentioned policy, the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute supported the creation of school networks in all school districts in Cyprus, in order to organize training and promote cooperation between schools on teaching Greek as a second language. The operation of the Networks began in January 2021 for schools of secondary education, where 61 teachers applied for participating. The design of the meetings was based on a blended learning approach (online and offline meetings) where teachers discuss about issues of intercultural education, bilingualism, etc.
In addition, most refugee children follow general education. Support for their educational integration has come in particular from the DRA.S.E. programme (Δράσεις Σχολικής και Κοινωνικής Ένταξης) that, among others, aims to support non-Greek speaking families to learn Greek and improve their social skills. For more information about the DRA.S.E. programme, see also section 6.3.
School subjects - Curriculum
Topics related to social cohesion and equal opportunities are included in the subject of Home Economics (Οικιακή Οικονομία) at lower and upper-secondary education level. Based on the Ministry’s 2020 Annual Report , activities that took place during the instruction included, among others, the organisation of workshops and activities for pupils regarding topics, such as:
- ways to deal with emotional issues, such as emotions of "anger" and "stress";
- conflict resolution;
- emotional health status and life values, such as responsibility, offer and respect;
- promotion of acceptance;
- management of diversity and multiculturalism.
In addition, the continuing professional development (CPD) seminars (Προγράμματα – Σεμινάρια) for secondary education teachers offered by the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute address issues, such as cultivating empathy, social and emotional intelligence, applying anti-racist policies in schools, human relations and crisis management, human rights education, integration of migrant students in schools, developing empathy skills and respect for diversity, conflict resolution, fighting prejudice and racism while accepting diversity, etc. Specific information about seminars related only to diversity, intercultural education and the anti-racism policy that are organised by the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute can be found on the website of the Institute.
From the school year 2015/2016, all schools at all levels of education were required to implement the anti-racist policy of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth named "Code of Conduct against Racism and Guide for Managing and Recording Racist Incidents" (Κώδικας Συμπεριφοράς κατά του Ρατσισμού & Οδηγός Διαχείρισης και Καταγραφής Ρατσιστικών Περιστατικών). Based on the Ministry’s 2020 Annual Report, the policy conceptualizes racism in a broad manner, including all sorts of discrimination. It includes definitions of basic concepts which form the theoretical background (e.g., racism, racist incident, discrimination, stereotypes, diversity, etc.), outlines the responsibilities and commitments expected by each member of the school community, and provides the steps to be followed by schools in order to deal with racist incidents in a practical manner. It provides schools and teachers with a detailed plan on how to deal with and prevent racist incidents. The Cyprus Pedagogical Institute conducts several actions (e.g., workshops, conferences, seminars) every school year to support teachers and schools implementing the anti-racist policy. At the same time, the anti-racist policy website (Αντιρατσιστική Πολιτική – Οικοσελίδα) is continually updated with information on the implementation as well as additional educational material.
One of the most important initiatives in Cyprus which promote equal opportunities for everyone in the island are also the State Institutes for Further Education launched by the Ministry. The State Institutes function under the auspices of Secondary Education all over Cyprus and they aim at offering equal opportunities of education to thousands of pupils of all ages and adults and promoting lifelong learning. They help low-income families and offer scholarships to pupils who excel in their examinations. They employ mostly young unemployed teachers and very few experienced teachers, if necessary. There are 41 State Institutes all over Cyprus with more than 12 500 pupils every year, and they are addressed not only to young people, but to the whole population in Cyprus. In an attempt to provide equal opportunities through education to all citizens, a wide variety of lessons is offered at the State Institutes for Further Education, such as:
- Foreign Languages (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Turkish) up to level B1 or B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
- Greek to non-native Greek speakers
- Accounting at all levels
- Remedial lessons for lower and upper-secondary pupils
- Preparatory lessons for the Pancyprian Exams
- ICT classes
Since 2003, the State Institutes for Further Education have been offering free Greek lessons for the Turkish Cypriots and free Turkish lessons for the Greek Cypriots in an attempt to create communication bridges between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.
Furthermore, the Ministry’s 2020 Annual Report states that the Committee of Health Education and Citizenship – as an expert actor/stakeholder of the Ministry - funds non-school-related actions to support pupils belonging to vulnerable groups. The Programme operates since 2012 and is part of the Ministry’s commitments to the National Strategy of the Cyprus National Addictions Authority to address the Dependence on Illegal Substances and the Harmful Use of Alcohol (2013-2020). In the context of promoting this policy, the Committee of Health Education and Citizenship favours the development of actions by schools aiming at involving these children in non-school activities, to make creative use of their free time. The actions aim at learning, emotional and social support, self-empowerment, highlighting and fostering talent as well as developing a safe life for pupils who belong to vulnerable groups. During the school year 2019/2020, 834 actions were funded under this Programme.
In addition, as mentioned in section 6.3, another programme which aims to support the Cypriot population living below the poverty line or being at risk of poverty and social exclusion and it aims to strengthen social cohesion by reducing the risk of social marginalization and exclusion, is the DRA.S.E. programme (Δράσεις Σχολικής και Κοινωνικής Ένταξης) offered by the Ministry of Education. The total budget of the Programme, which expires in 2023, is €35 962 700.
In regards to programmes, projects and initiatives in the field of the vocational education and training, relevant information can be found in the section 4.4 of the Youth Wiki related to inclusive programmes for vulnerable youth.
As for other initiatives organised in the context of non-formal and informal learning, the Youth Board of Cyprus organises the Erasmus+ "Role Model Network" European initiative, which aims to promote common European values, such as democracy, solidarity and respect for human rights, by promoting the life and action of specific human models (Role Models) that help in the promotion of an inclusive society. The "Network of Role Models" initiative is implemented in Cyprus through the #LifeStories initiative, which aims to inspire and empower young people by presenting the lives of people who have succeeded in their lives, despite the discrimination or challenges they have faced, or people whose work has animated people of immigrant background. In 2020, due to the pandemic, the initiative focused on sharing stories on social initiatives related to culture, technology, volunteerism, sciences, and aspects of solidarity that can inspire youth to take initiatives for their own communities.
In addition, another inclusive programme in Cyprus in the context of non-formal, informal learning and youth work is the “Youth Initiatives Project” of the Youth Board of Cyprus aiming to grant activities organised by young people and youth organisations so that young people can have an active role in cultural, sport, political and social activities in Cyprus. For more information, please also visit section 4.7.