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Putnam presents on inclusive special education in Spain

An Education professor at UMPI recently was in Spain to present at the Global Conference on Inclusive Education, an event organized by Inclusion International, a global federation of organizations advocating for the human rights of people with intellectual disabilities worldwide.

Dr. JoAnne Putnam gave a presentation titled Teacher Education Program Models for Inclusion during the conference, which was held in Salamanca, Spain from Oct. 21-23. Inclusive education involves including students with special needs in the same educational arrangements as the majority of children through quality education and support for different styles and rates of learning.

The conference was co-sponsored by a number of organizations including: the United Nation Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education; the Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia de España; the Instituto Universitario de Integración en la Comunidad [INICO]; and Confederación Española de Organizaciones en favor de las Personas con Discapacidad Intelectual [FEAPS].

In 1994, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] convened the World Conference on Special Education and 92 governments adopted Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing “the right to education…directed to the full development of the human personality and promoting understanding, tolerance, and friendship.”

Fifteen years later – at the conference Putnam attended in Spain – educators, policy makers, and parents met to evaluate progress toward the goal of inclusion and confront the gap between policy and the reality in schools. Program Chair for the conference was Gordon Porter, Chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission and Director of Inclusive Initiatives for the Canadian Association for Community Living, who is also an adjunct professor at UMPI.

“Throughout the world, there seems to be a denial of the needs of children with disabilities,” Putnam said.

UNESCO reports that 77 million children are not in school and 25 million have a disability. According to the 2009 report Better Education for All, systemic barriers to inclusive education include public policy failures, a political vacuum of leadership and accountability, unsupported families, unsupported teachers and, although there is an abundance of knowledge, a lack of knowledge mobilization.

Putnam’s presentation focused on another barrier: the lack of training for teachers and educational administrators to adapt curriculum and create inclusive school communities.

Putnam said she was inspired by the spirit of cooperation and the willingness to confront the “separate and unequal” treatment of people with disabilities throughout the world. She said that the fact that there are greater proportions of children living in poverty or from minorities in special education is further impetus to address education equity issues in Maine and the U.S.

“In Maine, we have made great progress, and the majority of teachers are committed to teaching students with disabilities in general classes,” Putnam said. “However, we still lack the resources and teacher support to attain equal education for all.”

She is hopeful that the issues discussed at the Global Conference on Inclusive Education ultimately will help to address such matters.