Lithuania is one of the few EU countries that still have special schools for disabled children, with homeschooling being an exceptionally common occurrence.
According to the Lithuanian Disability Forum, roughly half of disabled children in Lithuania are taught in isolation.
This hinders efforts to fully include them and often stands in the way of their higher education: only around 1,000 persons with disabilities are able to get into higher education each year, which makes up less than 1 percent of all students.
According to the forum’s representatives, while parents would like their children to attend primary and secondary school, most schools are still not ready to accept students with visual, hearing or mental impairments: there is a dearth of properly trained staff and a prevalence of negative attitudes towards such children.
Unable to access school
A large portion of schools have still not been adapted to accommodate children with reduced mobility, says Rasa Kavaliauskaite, the president of the Lithuanian Association of People with Disabilities.She claims that of the 109 schools inspected in the 2011-2015 period, only 16.5 percent were accessible to children with disabilities, with 31.2 percent having limited accessibility and 52.3 percent being completely inaccessible.
The inspection also covered 14 higher education establishments with a total of 48 buildings, finding that only 40 percent were adapted to the needs of disabled students. The remainder had no elevators, lifts and detectable warning surfaces to notify of changes in level, with obstacles en route to the assembly halls.
Excessive financial burden?
Schools wishing to include children with special needs are facing considerable financial difficulties.
The headmistress of one of the best Vilnius progymnasiums with respect to the inclusion of children with disabilities claims that while children with special needs are allocated additional funding each year, it is only enough to cover children with moderate special needs: “Children with significant educational needs require a great deal more funding. Maybe that’s why headmasters are so averse to disabled students.”
The level of preparation of teachers – or, rather, lack thereof – is yet another problem area. According to Sigitas Armonas, chairman of the Lithuanian Association for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, there are currently 220 sight-impaired students studying in inclusive settings in general schools in Lithuania.
However, Armonas claims that not all schools that accept visually impaired children are properly prepared for the task ahead of them, while special educators who choose to work with visually impaired children receive no training for it.
This story was prepared with the information provided by Mano teises and the Lithuanian Disability Forum.