Preschool education is known as a critical period in which the foundation of personality is built. It plays a key role in developing a series of skills and knowledge such as problem solving skills, social skills, language and communication skills, increased readiness for early years of elementary school, lower problem behaviors in future.
Inclusive education is defined by UNESCO as a process of addressing and responding to the diverse needs of all learners by increasing participation in learning and reducing exclusion within and from education. Inclusive education with a strange twist is educating children with special needs (SNs) together with their typically developing peers in their school which is the same school they would normally attend if they did not have special needs (SNs). Inclusive education starts with preschool education to prepare children with their typically developing peers for further education in their life. It refers to the commitment to educate each child to the maximum extent possible, as equal participants in a society in which all children are given the same opportunities to reach their potential. For several reasons children with SNs are either ignored or disregarded and in result they had limited chance to attend regular schools with their typically developing peers in Turkey. Children with intellectual disabilities (IDs) are the most disadvantaged group among children with SNs and face more difficulties in inclusive preschool education due to their needs which are more complicated than others. They need additional special support and efforts. Although the existence of legal basis and regulations in the field, the observed real practices show that there isn’t an effective inclusion in preschool education especially for children with IDs.
The legal basis of inclusive education in Turkey was formed with 573 Special Education Legislation, which came into force in 1997. Even though the regulations do not require children who are under 6 years old attend early childhood education, children with disabilities are required to attend early childhood education for their developmants. Therefore, registered students with disabilities in early childhood settings are in increase. The regulation caused a new turmoil for the professionals who are in early childhood education. A new role, developing a welcoming learning environment for all students with or without disabilities, appears as a new challenge for the professionals.
Teachers are accepted as one of the most important component of inclusion. In order to increase the success of preschool inclusive education, preschool teachers should be prepared to teach in heterogeneous classrooms that include children with and without SNs including children with IDs. In preschool teacher education programs in Turkey consist of only one introductory and selective course on special education. Many teachers are graduated without having knowledge and skills that would complement to their competencies to work with children with diverse needs. Studies in Turkey indicated that the school and classroom environments where preschool inclusive education will take place are not available to meet the needs of children with SNs, especially for the children with IDs. In Turkey, common concerns stated by preschool teachers are lack of availability of reliable knowledge based resources, lack of good practices reflecting the real field experience, lack of warm learning environment for teachers, lack of communication among all professionals who serve in different roles, lack of understanding how to prepare and present the materials to the teachers in a more meaningful way for them.
This project has been designed so as to answer to those needs through designing a training program for preschool teachers including them into the design process and focusing on children with IDs. The project also aims to develop an e-learning portal as a self-learning opportunity for preschool teachers. This e-learning portal will also be developed including those; necessary knowledge to develop a welcoming environment for the preschool teachers, good examples coming from real teachers and self-evaluative materials for the teachers to evaluate their own development and their own educational environment. To succeed this, the teachers will be supported by the expert-team of the project. Training program and e-learning portal design process will be supported through joint staff trainings to understand and utilize from the European best practices.