Support and Inclusion of students with disabilities at higher education institutions in Montenegro – SINC@HE

The project rationale

Current expansion of the concept of inclusive education for students with disabilities in Montenegro was initiated by newcomer trends in the world, external obligations and incentives from the European environment, but also with permanent assessment of Montenegrin HE society needs.

Montenegro is young country in process of European integration. In that sense, harmonization in all segments with EU regulation is one of Government’s primary tasks. Towards EU integration, Government of Montenegro has noted disharmony in field of education of people with disabilities as relevant social problem. In the absence of competitive human, material and technical recourses to support them, young people with disabilities were able to educate only in specialized institutions.

Relying on existing legal acts in cooperation and active support of Government of Finland, Montenegrin Government launched the process of institutionalization of this problem that resulted with defining and adopting The Strategy for Inclusive Education in Montenegro in 2009. The main goal of the Strategy is to enable people with disabilities, to have high quality and available education in compliance with their interests, needs and possibilities.

However, the importance of ensuring the conditions for inclusion of students with disabilities  is inconsistent with the current willingness and support possibilities in Montenegrin HE: sensibility of the environment for students with disabilities is not developed, university professors and staff are not trained for working with disabled students and they are not able to identify  their  needs  and possibilities, students with disabilities are not sufficiently empowered to actively participate in the university life, teaching environment, for the time being, is not adapted to the physical demands of certain groups of disabled students, educational technology is only partly used in the specific context of teaching, IT support for disabled students and initiatives of higher education institutions are sporadic activities. The lack of financial and organizational issues are also very evident.

University teaching staff is generally not psychologically-pedagogically/methodically prepared for teaching (with the exception of the psychologists and educators). Montenegro has not systematically performed complete training of the university community to cooperate and work with students with disabilities. Other peer students do not recognize the possibility of their colleagues with disabilities. Also university teachers often withdraw, so students with disabilities are often left to create conditions and environment on themselves.

The national project partners, The Montenegrin Institute for Education and Rehabilitation of hearing and speech disorders and The Association of youth with disabilities, both took an active role in the developing and implementation of the national Strategy for Inclusive Education in Montenegro which is mainly addressed to the elementary and vocational educational needs. Both partners are quite aware of the lack of the any kind of support for studying with disability and also missing the organizational support at HE.

The main target group addressed by the project is wide group of current and prospective students with disability including all the following categories: students with learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia), students with visual and hearing impairments, students with neurological disorders and health problems, students with psychological problems, students with speech and language disorders, students with motor/physical disabilities. Since it is highly needed to strengthen the academic community for the concept of inclusive university, the wider target groups and university's potential partners are: students with and without disabilities, environment, university teachers, staff, and university established services and potential networks.

According to the Strategy, the official number of children with disability (prospective future students) in elementary schools in Montenegro for 2009 was 1.591 (631 girls and 960 boys). In vocational education, the registered number of disabled scholars was 639. At the HE level, the overall number was 91 student with disability, but the real numbers are even higher then those registered.

The results of the proposed project will be spread and highly supported through beneficiary universities, associations, and Ministry of Information society, which is also responsible for initiation of IT education support services for disabled as specified in the Development Strategy of information society in ME.

The wider project objective is to improve the quality and relevance of inclusive education for students with disabilities in Montenegro by combining best EU practices and policy to strenghten the open society values.