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SRU SPECIAL EDUCATION
PROFESSOR OFFERS EXPERTISE TO SCHOOLS IN KOSOVO
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
region is in desperate need of educational system funding. They
need teachers, new buildings and other amenities – books,
computers, paper and pencils,” he adds.
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.
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.
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.
for Kabashi to return to Kosovo and teach others what she has
learned in areas of special education.
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,