The Children with Cerebral Palsy Association (SERÇEV) was established in 2002 with the vision of ensuring that individuals with CP in Turkey have equal rights and the same opportunities as other individuals, and to encourage their independence in society.
To this end SERÇEV, has worked on a number of projects to develop new educational models for children with CP.
One such major project was the Gökkuşağı Early Child Education Center, Kindergarten, Primary School and Secondary School project. These learning environments operate using an inverse inclusion model, where the majority of students are differently-abled.
After the completion of this project it became apparent to SERÇEV that Turkey lacked higher education opportunities for young adults with disabilities. It was also determined there was a need to increase the quality of education for teenagers with CP in order to increase their employability and help them lead an independent life.
Extensive consultation and planning was undertaken in conjunction with the Ministry of National Education, academic advisors, parents and educators. The resulting plan was for the design and construction of the SERÇEV Inclusive Vocational and Technical High School. The goal was an inclusive environment facilitating socialisation and integration for teenagers with CP, as well as maximising employability.
The curriculum is split in two types:
- special vocational education for teenagers with complex disabilities
- vocational education for teenagers with mild disabilities and no disabilities.
The school offers three programs:
- Radio and television
- Information technologies
- Agriculture and green-housing.
As the school falls under the domain of the Ministry of National Education, admission processes comply with its guidelines and there are no fees associated with enrollment.
A major challenge facing the project was to ensure the campus was designed to maximise accessibility for students with a disability. Assistance was provided by the Istanbul Technical University Interior Achitecture Deparment in the later stages of design to ensure this criteria was met.
The next hurdle came with financing the build. After consultation with the Ministry of National Education, it was decided that construction would be undertaken by TOKI, Turkey’s Housing Development Administration agency.
Specialised equipment and resources such as height adjustable tables, special computer equipment and chairs were also sourced to meet the needs of children with various levels of ability.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the school happened on World Cerebral Palsy Day 2015. After two years of construction, it opened its doors to students for the academic year of 2017-2018.
Teaching the teachers
As SERÇEV Inclusive Vocational and Technical High School is the first of its kind in Turkey, considerable planning, research and workshops were undertaken to develop the curriculum and teaching resources.
Vocational high school educators were trained in integration education and the importance of inclusion. Educators attended training and seminars which were organised by consultants on the Academic Board, as well as having access to online training courses. Teachers also receive ongoing support from SERÇEV in relation to education of students with a disability.
In addition, a project focusing on cerebral palsy not being a barrier to employment was also carried out with funding by the European Union. This involved not only training educators but also developing vocational educational modules for students.
SERÇEV also places high importance on the role of families in the education system.
“Especially in the education of students with disabilities, the trio of teachers, families and students must act in a coherent and harmonious manner. For this reason, families have very important duties in the education process. At SERÇEV, we provide continuous and individual training to families on this subject.” – A. Süheyla Gürkan, Chairman of the Board
Families, mostly mothers, are also able to access professional and personal development courses while they wait for their child during school hours. Offerings include computer literacy, financial literacy, accounting and handiwork. There are also dedicated spaces at the school for families to utilize.
Paving the way
In the first year, 141 students enrolled in SERÇEV Inclusive Vocational and Technical High School. Of this number, 54 have CP, with 26 having moderate to severe disabilities and attending the special vocational education classes. The rest are integrated with their non-disabled peers.
It has been observed by school administration that the integrated education environment has helped improve the socialisation and motivation of teenagers with CP markedly.
“For example, a student with CP who couldn’t walk without a walker began to walk independently with the support and motivation of his non-disabled peers”, explains A. Süheyla Gürkan.
Another student with severe intellectual disabilities learned to read and write in technology assisted classrooms.
With promising outcomes to date, SERÇEV hopes that their school will be a benchmark for other higher education schools.
“It is aimed that the created education system, the applied education modules, the education of the instructors and the specially equipped classes are the model for the other schools which will be opened throughout the country.” – A. Süheyla Gürkan, Chairman of the Board
It also hopes to open the way for innovation in disability employment and increase awareness of people with disabilities in the business world. SERÇEV has been working closely with industrialists, business, non-government organisations and government agencies to undertake research and negotiations in order to increase internship and job opportunities for students with CP.
SERÇEV’s work in designing and reforming education for children with CP is not only paving the way for change in Turkey, but also the world.