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 SRU Special Education Professor Offers Expertise to Kosovo Schools 

 

SPOTLIGHT

11/15/2006

Contact: K.E. Schwab  -- 724-738-2199;  e-mail: karl.schwab@sru.edu

SRU SPECIAL EDUCATION PROFESSOR OFFERS EXPERTISE TO SCHOOLS IN KOSOVO

           SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -- When Slippery Rock University’s Dr. Joseph Merhaut, assistant professor of special education, was contacted by the University of Pittsburgh to join its four-year project in Kosovo, he was intrigued, but had little idea of the massive destruction, disarray and sometimes unsafe conditions he would find in Kosovo’s school systems.

     A conference, held at the University of Prishtina, allowed both Dr. Merhaut and Lema Kabashi, a graduate student from Kosovo now studying at SRU, to address an audience of undergraduate and graduate students, teachers and members of the Ministry of Education in Kosovo on ways to help improve the system.

      Merhaut’s presentation, "Special Education in America,” focused on current trends in special education and offered an overview of special education law in America. Kabashi presented her experience in America, including details from her initial visit and her current experiences with the SRU’s graduate program as well as experiences in American classrooms. 

      Merhaut, who traveled with the University of Pittsburgh team, headed by Dr. David Berman, in October, toured Kosovo, a country formally under Serbia, but now administered by the United Nations while it works toward independence, as part of the project.

      “It was seven, eye-opening days to say the least,” he explains. “School administrators, and the people, want a great education system, and at one time they may have had it, but with the political infighting, the bombing and disorder facing the system, they have a long way to go.” Still, Merhaut, an expert in classroom inclusion for those with special education needs, says he hopes to continue to proffer ideas and workable plans to help the children succeed. 

      At SRU, Merhaut has been proactive in creating the Assistive Technologies Laboratory used to teach SRU students studying in special education how to use, and expand use of, equipment designed to motivate and energize those with special education needs. The SRU laboratory, funded, in part, by a $100,000, four-year grant from the Pittsburgh-based Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust, has seen steady growth and utilization since opening. More than dozen pieces of equipment help SRU students learn how important sound, sight and touch stimulation is to those who require special learning development. They also learn how they may one day use similar equipment in their own classrooms.

       “As part of the ‘Civic Education Project Conference’ in Kosovo, we met with officials from the Kosovo education ministry and those from the University of Prishtina, a public university, and the only public university where the emphasis is on pedagogical training. We were able to offer ideas on how improvements in their schools, and, in particular, meet the needs of special education students, could be accomplished,” Merhaut explains.

      Kosovo’s education system is similar to that in the U.S. with 12 grades. Also joining the session was SRU’s Dr. Richard Altenbaugh, professor of secondary education, who is undertaking research work at Cambridge University in England.

      Merhaut says he had the chance to review the region’s recent history, including firsthand views of what the so-called “ethnic cleansing” has meant to the local population as well as the devastating effects and bombing results of the country’s civil war. “We met with Agim Veliu, Kosovo’s minister of education, who was the target of an assassination attempt before NATO came to the country’s aid, and we saw the dedication of teachers. Merhaut estimates 20 to 30 percent of the slightly more than 2 million inhabitants – 50,000 school-age children, many of them orphans – require some form of special education.

      “This region is in desperate need of educational system funding. They need teachers, new buildings and other amenities – books, computers, paper and pencils,” he adds.

           “Like America, some of its schools offer alternative or attached classes; others use an integrated classroom plan to help assimilate those with special needs or learning-disabled students as part of the regular classroom. We offered strategies on co-teaching and individual instruction, and we showed the benefits of assistive technology laboratories like ours. We set up plans for the next step, including finding instructional grants to help expand such programs and even to bring those who are already teachers, or those interested in becoming teachers, to the U.S. for exposure to new pedagogies and strategic thinking for use in the classroom,” he says.

            Officials from Kosovo on a fact-finding mission met with SRU officials on campus, including Dr. Jay Hertzog, dean of SRU’s College of Education, more than a year ago to gather facts and ideas for improving schools in their home country.

      In addition, at least one student from Kosovo, Kabashi, is taking graduate education classes in special education at SRU and plans are on the drawing board to allow on-line courses to be beamed to Kosovo via the Internet as a way of more quickly expanding teacher education and development there.

      Plans calls for Kabashi to return to Kosovo and teach others what she has learned in areas of special education.

      Merhaut says he expects to return to the region as a way of further expanding thinking about inclusionary classes for special needs students, identification and evaluation of those thought to be exceptional students, and as a way of gathering further information on the progress of co-teaching classes and other suggestions made to Kosovo school officials.

PN, PGN, WPN, PR

Merhaut.kes.doc

 

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