Dozens of teacher’s aides who help students with disabilities, were dismissed on Monday 3 November pursuant to the decision made last Friday by the Croatian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. In the counties that were successful in the competition for EU funds, funding for aides from NGOs that applied in the second call for funding applications was denied even though they were encouraged to apply for this European funding by the Croatian Ministry of Education.
In order to best understand what teachers’ aides mean to students with disabilities it’s perhaps best to read the letter by Luka Wagner, an exceptionally good sixth grader from a primary school in Rijeka, who has cerebral palsy. The text of the letter was originally published by Croatian TV – HRT.
Croatian TV reported that, as a result of these cuts to teacher’s aid the families of children with disabilities are left in trying circumstance, Luka’s family ttried to see if they could find the money to pay for his teacher’s aide or have his mum attend classes with him. Luka started to cry: “No, I don’t want that. Because, whose mother attends class with them, whose!?” he sobbed like tru young man yearning for independence despite his disabilities. As the need for teacher’s aide is immediate Luka’s school found a way to help him temporarily – the school’s physiotherapist sat in the classroom with him for a while. So, there are no more teacher’s aids employed by the Cerebral Palsy Association and the city council employs only very few and funds will need to be found to help these children with disabilities to have the support they need to access education within regular schools. Luka’s school says that someone at higher levels of government will need to find a way of returning teacher’s aides positions in schools where they are needed.
And while the authorities and parties negotiate, address the problem Luka reads his letter:
I have cerebral palsy. Am I different from others because of that? I am not. I have two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs, parents who would bring down the stars from the skies if I needed them and I have wonderful friends. That which angers me the most in life is when people say: ‘He’s a child with special needs.” I have no special needs. I have the same needs as all other people on Earth, the need for understanding, friendship, love, going to a friend’s place and to the movies. I only need help menu is only needed help to satisfy these needs I have.
I’m surrounded by wonderful people and true friends who provide me with great help. I was afraid of what will happen when I go to school. A thousand questions went through my mind, but one thing that bothered me the most: ‘What if they do not accept me because I cannot do everything like they can?’. I cannot walk alone, my helper is my walker, getting my books out of my bag is a problem for me and my classmates did that for me until I got an assistant, a teacher’s aide. My classmates would even get into an argument over who and when would we be my helper, because they sincerely wanted to help me with what I cannot do by myself. The fact that I play football with them says how much they have accepted me. Of course, I cannot run, but I am the best goalkeeper in the world. My walker takes up half of the goal space, and so rarely does the ball pass through to the net behind me.
The first days of this school year made me and my mum cry. Why? Because I did not know if I would have an assistant in the classroom this school year so I asked friends via Facebook to turn up at school wearing yellow T-shirts as a sign of their support for me that the first day of school, they come in yellow T-shirts as a sign of support for me and for all the children with developmental disabilities in our fight for our constitutional rights, in this case, the right to education. You guessed? Of course they came in yellow T-shirts and with that showed once again that I am not different from them, I just need their help.
Now, at the end of this letter I ask the question: ‘Am I really different from the other twelve-year-olds?’”
And the education system, sadly, says he is different. The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport reacted: it passes the responsibility onto the local authorities “who have received EU funds from social programs and that these funds should be used for teacher’s aides (not state budget!).”
This government of Croatia has serious problems in understanding the state budgetary meaning of the right to education and its responsibilities in securing access and sustainability to the rights to education, guaranteed under the Constitution! A government simply cannot pass on the funding for teacher’s aides in schools to non-government or other community organisations or funding avenues that are dependent on the success of a funding applications, year by year or so. Teacher’s aides for education of children with disabilities are not a social or welfare issue. It is not a matter of depending on the goodness of volunteers or vulnerabilities of families with children who have disabilities and need support in accessing education. Such an attitude and approach creates and fuels barriers to education access, which children with disabilities need to grapple with and fear from, year after year.
Such a fate simply cannot do! The government must ensure that not only the right to education is ensured but also that the access to that right has no barriers.
Many children with disabilities are currently not attending school due to lack of teacher’s aides, in some cases parents have attended to their child in the classroom so that their child could be at school – this though is neither possible for all nor appropriate. A child with disabilities should not have to deal with issues of access to education alongside coping with their disabilities.
The Minister of Social Politics and the Youth, Milanka Opacic, says there is no money in her portfolio or state’s budget for teacher’s aides and hopes the Ministry of Education has applied for funds to the EU because “that was the only way to get enough funds.” The Ministry of Education say that they are “still looking for a model to solve this situation.” (!)
The Education Minister Vedran Mornar is nowhere to be heard on this matter so far; he has fobbed it off to his equally incompetent assistants. Wouldn’t it be a great thing if he gets rid of few of his assistants and advisers together with some other government ministers and utilised the freed-up funds for teacher’s aides for children with disabilities in regular, socially inclusive schools. Every developed society has the responsibility and mandate to ensure people with disabilities are included and access barriers removed or optimally reduced. Evidently, the Croatian government has not caught up in its laws/regulations with the United Nations Convention On Rights Of Persons With Disabilities – heck, it hasn’t caught up with its own Constitution and associated laws when it comes to the rights and access to education for all children. Getting rid of these human rights hoodlums in Croatian government will be the day Croatia may truly start to shine on all levels of humanity. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)