A Worldwide First
"This seminar is very meaningful for me," says Marie Carstensen, an undergraduate student at Europa-Universität Flensburg (EUF) who is training to teach music and French in comprehensive schools. This semester, Maria has had regular contact with two education specialists, Laura Schwörer and Samuel Wunsch, in the seminar "Experts in Their Own Right." Her impression: "This is really the only seminar that deals emotionally with inclusion. This is very important for me so that, later on, I can put myself in the place of the students. Only in this seminar do I learn to experience and reduce my own fears of contact."
Laura Schwörer has Asperger's syndrome and a secondary school diploma. She dances, paints, sings in a choir and plays electric bass in a band. Samuel Wunsch has a learning disability and a special school certificate. He sails, travels, also sings in a choir and creates sound worlds on the computer. Both have been offering educational programs in higher education since 2016 and, among other things, teach prospective teachers what people with disabilities need to learn well. In doing so, they help fight against stereotypes. "It's important to me that not all people with a diagnosis are the same," explains Laura Schwörer. "As personalities, they're just as individual as people without a diagnosis." This message is also important to Samuel Wunsch: "We're just normal people," he says.
Laura Schwörer and Samuel Wunsch are two of six education experts and pioneers worldwide. "Internationally, the education specialists are a unique model," emphasizes Kirsten Diehl, professor of inclusion at EUF and head of the university's seminar "Experts in Their Own Right." She was a member of the "Inclusive Education" networking forum and enabled the education specialists to gain their first practical teaching experience at EUF during the qualification phase. "In retrospect, the project 'Qualification as an Education Specialist' achieved three interrelated goals for the first time worldwide. First, people with disabilities were trained as education specialists. Second, their educational achievements permanently enriched regular training at technical colleges and universities. And third, they became employed in the primary job market with permanent employment contracts," says Kirsten Diehl.
Founded in 2013 by the Drachensee Foundatio and funded by "Aktion Mensch" with support from the Schleswig-Holstein state government, in six years the project has trained six people with disabilities to train other people in the field of inclusion. In various modules, they learned how to speak in front of people, work in a team, change perspectives, lead role plays, and engage in group work, among other topics. With funding by the state government of Schleswig-Holstein, since becoming certified in 2016 the education specialists have held about 80 events per year in the form of in lectures, seminar sessions and workshops, which are attended by up to 5,000 students in the state each year. In addition to students, their target group includes teachers, specialists and managers from a wide range of fields and disciplines. It's a pioneering model: already, qualified education specialists are working at three other university locations in Germany.
The model project "Inklusive Bildung der Stiftung Drachensee" [Inclusive Education of the Drachensee Foundation] has now been transferred to the Institut für Inklusive Bildung (Institute for Inclusive Education, IIB), a central institution at Kiel University since January 1, 2022. The institute's scientific director, Friederike Zimmermann, Professor of Educational-Psychological Diagnostics at Kiel Christians Albrecht University (CAU), seeks an even more comprehensive integration of the education specialists' expertise: "The education specialists are absolute professionals in teaching. Participants also appreciate their expertise, who have a high level of acceptance for inclusive seminar sessions overall. We're pleased that we can increasingly take into account the perspective of these education professionals' in our research on inclusion in education, for example, as well as in survey procedure coordination, or ensuring that results dissemination is more inclusive." In the future, the Institute for Inclusive Education will be expanded into a German center for inclusion, which will provide vocational training that will give people with disabilities significantly more opportunities in the general labor market.