Anchoring special needs and inclusive education in teacher training programmes at Iraqi universities: this is the goal of a cooperation project led by Oldenburg special needs education expert Clemens Hillenbrand.
How many children and young people at Iraqi schools have special educational needs? "I would very much like to know this number," says Prof. Dr Dawood S. Atrushi. But there is no reliable data on this. Atrushi is president of the University of Dohuk in the Kurdish part of Iraq. Together with members of the university administrations of other Iraqi universities - Garmian, Kufa, Mosul and Zakho - he was a guest in Oldenburg in June. Their goal is to anchor the topic of inclusion in Iraqi universities and to train teachers for inclusive education. Even if exact figures are lacking – it is clear that the need is enormous in the war- and terror-ridden country.
"Our overarching aim is to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Iraq ratified in 2013," explains Prof. Dr Clemens Hillenbrand. The special needs education expert from Oldenburg heads the project "Professional Development in Special Needs Education in Iraqi Universities" funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The cooperation with the Iraqi partners has existed for almost ten years and was initiated by the now emeritus special needs education teacher Prof. Dr Monika Ortmann.
In the course of the cooperation, the University Of Dohuk has been able to establish the Bachelor's programme "Disability Studies and Rehabilitation". About 490 students have completed the programme since 2018. Expanding teaching to include this area was a big step, Atrushi said during the visit to Oldenburg. He sees the cooperation with the German universities - besides Oldenburg, the universities of Vechta and Flensburg are involved - as very meaningful. And he is thankful for the support by the presidential board of the University of Oldenburg.
The other Iraqi universities have been cooperating with Oldenburg's special needs education department since 2019. In the first phase of the project, special and inclusive education training and continuing education programmes were created at the participating universities. The qualified specialists are now active as important multipliers on site. "The next step is to develop structured programmes for student teachers at Iraqi universities with a special focus on special and inclusive education," explains Hillenbrand.
At the University of Mosul, for example, the second largest in the country, the training of future teachers plays a major role anyway, explains University President Prof. Dr. Kosay Kamalaldeen Dawod Al-Ahmady. For this reason, too, the university administration there would like to intensify cooperation with the University of Oldenburg. Al-Ahmady and University President Prof. Dr. Ralph Bruder signed a corresponding Memorandum of Understanding during the visit.
And even beyond formal agreements, the meeting of the project partners in Oldenburg was able to create space for new ideas. Among other things, the guests visited the Alexanderstraße secondary school in Oldenburg to get to know the practice of inclusive school teaching - and to exchange concrete ideas. For example, what contribution physical education and physical education teachers can make to inclusion.
All in all, Hillenbrand sums up, there is a great commitment at the five participating universities to sensitising future teachers to dealing with children with disabilities. Now it is important to continue to support the universities on their way and to anchor corresponding structured training offers.