Yerevan School # 60 is one of the many Armenian schools who joined the inclusive education movement in Armenia, using all possible professional development opportunities to improve the inclusive and enabling environment within the school. One of such opportunities is the implementation of “Project Citizen”, a community-based learning project supported by National Institute of Education and Teach for Armenia. The project aims at the promotion of citizenship education in a practical and engaging manner, asking mixed groups of students to tackle “community problems” and deepen their understanding of citizenship values.
During this phase, the teacher presents him/herself as a “facilitator” or instructor guiding the work of the group. As an interactive excursive, It should be noted , that the role of a teacher is only to facilitate or organize the work of the group of students. Students identify issues of their interest, develop citizenship knowledge and skills, and enhance their learning through exploring the social ife and their role as citizens. Moreover, they are responsible for building up “knowledge blocks” and demonstrate active citizenship traits.
The implementation of a project with this degree of complexity requires the investment of time, both on the part of the teacher and of the student. Schools need to integrate project based learning into their school curriculum to solve the issue of timing. Depending on the community problem identified and on the composition of the team, the project can require between two months (as in our example) and the whole school year. Furthermore, in some instancesstudents might lack the specific skills to carry out tasks. In this case, more time has to be allocated for the teaching of such skills.
Finally, students might not have much experience in working in groups. This might be a obstacle in the early stages of the practice, but can be easily overcome thanks to the role of teacher as a facilitator of the communication within the team, as well as thanks to the responsabilisation of students themselves.
In the case of our example, an additional obstacle was the fact that students did not have any experience of working in a group encompassing also students with disabilities. Also in this case, careful work of the facilitators (Sona Danielyan and a specialist from the Ministry of Education affiliated National Institute of Education) and engagement of the school interdisciplinary team led to improved collaboration among students and inclusion and acceptance of students with special needs.
After the implementation of the practice, the classroom environment improved substantially: students started to treat one another equally, ignorance was eliminated, and a collaborative atmosphere started to be predominating. an extremely tolerant setting within the classroom was created. Students, in addition, felt engaged and willing to participate – they learnt about their rights and responsibilities, explored the national legislation, contributed to the achievements of the objectives of the project by fulfilling specific and individual roles during as part of the group. They proclaimed that they have an intention to approach government institutions and public organizations for external support. They felt members of a bigger learning community, and acquired a new set of skills and abilities.
Furthermore, the implementation of Project Citizen had an impact on the school as a whole: the school headmaster developed a better understanding of the community problem identified by the team; the multi-disciplinary team (1) members started to use more developmental games; parents committed to support teachers and inclusive education; the school created a room equipped with all the instruments needed to provide education to students with special needs.
Sona Danielyan is a deputy director and a teacher of history and citizenship at Yerevan #60 School. She coordinates the inclusive education programmes at her school. As a teacher of social studies, Sona initiates and facilitates community based learning projects with upper middle school students by engaging young citizens in real life learning. She publishes articles in local periodicals. She was the first to pilot the Project Citizen with students with special needs.
The Armenian Ministry of Education and Science affiliated National Institute of Education and Teach for Armenia initiated a project to enhance contemporary teaching and learning practices in schools of Yerevan. They have identified the Project Citizen – an interdisciplinary curricular program that promotes competent and responsible participation in local and state government – as a model for enhancing pedagogical practice and real live learning among young learners. Over the last decade, the Armenian Center for Citizenship Education – CIVITAS supported the education authorities and teachers in Armenia to engage school students in identifying a public policy problem in their community, evaluate alternative solutions, develop their own solution in the form of a public policy, and create a political action plan to enlist local or state authorities to adopt their proposed policy.
The example reported in this practice deals with a group of 15 school students (9 girls, 6 boys) from 8th grade level (14-15 years old), who participated in the project in February and March 2015. This group comprised also two girls with hard-of-hearing, and hyperactive students, and students from socially vulnerable families. The school multi-disciplinary team and around 10 parents supported the teachers and children in designing and implementing the project.
A complete description of Project Citizen, together with all the necessary support material, can be found at http://www.civiced.org/pc-program
More information about Vahan Teryan Yerevan School # 60 can be found on its website: http://yerevan60.schoolsite.am/
(1) The multi-disciplinary team is a group of educators who need to help a child with special education needs to learn and overcome the curriculum. The members of the team are: a special educator (a speech therapist or a tiflochagogist), a social pedagogue, and a psychologist. The team also works with teachers to develop the child’s individual learning plan based on learning needs of the child.
Written by the Armenian Center for Democratic Education CIVITAS team based on an interview with Sona Danielyan from Yerevan Basic School # 60 on 20 May 2017.