“We are trying to train not only professional personnel, but also real citizens”

Sevinj Mahsimova: “We are also interested in the post-university life and employment of our students”

“Television needs to pay more attention to the problem of people with health restrictions”

“Sometimes their parents need psychological support more than students with disabilities”

Since January 14, the project of introducing students to the society, who have certain health problems, but who can be an example to everyone with their intelligence, talent, love of life and determination to fight, has started. Within the framework of this project, you will not only get to know these young people, but you will also get to know their wishes and desires, ideas and proposals related to various issues.

The guest of our project this time is Sevinj Mahsimova, coordinator of the Inclusive Education Center. In our conversation with Sevinj Mahsimova, we tried to clarify various points related to the activities of the Inclusive Education Center, determine the role of this Center in the lives of students with disabilities, as well as discuss the work done and planned to be done.

– Ms. Sevinc, first we would like to clarify the concept of “inclusive education” itself. What is inclusive education and what qualities does it include?

– Inclusive education – means that all people are accessible to all in terms of meeting their diverse educational needs. Inclusive education means that all people with and without disabilities, all young people have the same right to education, have the right to study in the same environment. This means equal access to education for everyone.

Inclusive education is understood by some as special education intended only for persons with disabilities. But this is a wrong idea.

Necessary conditions for inclusive education have been created in our university. We have more than 30 students with various disabilities. Their degree of disability is also different. We have students who come to class in wheelchairs. The health problem of some students is not identified at first glance. UNEC also has students who were injured and disabled in the Karabakh battles. It can be said that we have managed to get those students to study in the same environment with other students and fully integrate them into the society.

– How long has the Inclusive Education Center been operating?

-Students with disabilities have always studied at the Azerbaijan State University of Economics. Most of them study part-time. The creation of the Center for Inclusive Education was started in 2014, and the Center has been officially operational since 2015. The Center has been operating for 4 years now, and we are trying to expand and improve our activities every year.

-Do students with disabilities apply to the Inclusive Education Center themselves, or does the Center itself take such students under special supervision?

– We pay attention to each student admitted to UNEC, we are interested in each of them. If there are persons with disabilities among them, we try to keep them under control. We register them, conduct certain negotiations. There are some students who never accept their disability. That’s why they don’t want to communicate with us. We monitor such students remotely. In order not to displease them, we get information about these students, their classes and behavior from teachers and deans.

-Does the Inclusive Education Center offer psychological services to students?

– Of course it is shown. This is the main task of the Center. An individual conversation is conducted with each of the students. We meet with them and try to learn their problems. We have professional psychologists who support the activity of the center and treat their work as their duty, and they help us in this work. They talk to students and determine their psychological state. I am grateful to each of our psychologists for their support.

I would like to mention one point that almost all of the students admitted to the university have overcome many psychological obstacles until this stage. In other words, they go through a series of stages like this, and overcome certain problems. Of course there are problems. We are also trying to solve them.

– Do you have any contact with the parents of such students?

– This is a very important point. We communicate closely not only with students, but also with parents. The parental factor plays a special role in this matter. Along with students, we get to know their parents one by one, sometimes we invite them here as a family. You can be sure that in many cases, parents need this kind of attitude, negotiations, and psychological support more than students.

– What is the situation in other universities? Are there Inclusive Education Centers or similar centers?

– A few years ago, with the support of the Ministry of Education, the ERASMUS project related to inclusive education was implemented, and 6 universities joined this project. Inclusive education centers have already started operating in those universities. However, there is a problem that there are few students with disabilities in other universities.

In UNEC, the inclusive education system has existed for a long time. Students with disabilities have been studying at our university for many years, and since inclusive education is developing more, the university administration decided to establish this Center.

– What projects has the Inclusive Education Center implemented since 2015?

– We have implemented a number of important projects during this period. First of all, let me mention that teachers are regularly trained. In these trainings, it is explained how to conduct the educational process together with the requirements of people with and without disabilities.

In February 2018, we held an international conference called “Inclusive higher education: international trends and UNEC experience”. Specialists from foreign countries on inclusive higher education participated in that conference. A large number of specialists from our republic participated in this conference. After the conference, specialized 2-day trainings were also organized. 100 teachers participated in this training.

On December 21, 2018, a student with a group I disability of UNEC successfully spoke at the II All-Republic Student Congress organized by the Ministry of Education. In general, the Ministry of Education provides us with constant support in this direction.

It is possible to get more information about the projects we implement on the official website of our university www.unec.edu.az, in the Inclusive Education Center section, and on the corresponding Facebook network.

Educational events are also organized among educational institutions. We cooperate closely with many organizations operating in this field.

– Are there meetings between previous graduates and graduates of the current year? Is there any form of communication and contact between them?

– All graduates communicate with each other through social networks. They make virtual friends in certain groups. We also hold a meeting between graduates. We invite not only people with disabilities to these meetings, but all graduates. Students with disabilities come here already motivated. Such meetings are more motivating for people without health problems. They look at the high morale and determination of our disabled youth and try to become more active and more life-loving. That is, these meetings are useful for everyone.

– Do you plan to implement some projects and innovations in the near future? What are the goals for the coming months and years?

– Our goal is not only to provide higher education to students with disabilities. The center considers the student’s life after university and his future, and puts it in the spotlight. We make plans for our students’ labor activity and career, and carry out concrete work in this direction. We work together with UNEC Career Center. We cooperate with all companies

according to the qualifications, knowledge and skills of our graduates, and explore job opportunities for them. In other words, the post-university life of our students and their work activities are among the issues we keep in mind. In the near future, we intend to further expand our activities in this direction and take more serious steps towards solving the employment problem of our students with disabilities.

– Are companies interested in hiring people with disabilities?

– It is very gratifying that many institutions are interested in this issue. Last year, UNEC held the All-Republic Labor Fair for young people with disabilities with the support of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the Ministry of Education and Culture. About 60 institutions presented various vacancies at this job fair. Undoubtedly, such measures play an invaluable role in ensuring the employment of persons with disabilities. This experience was very good, as many of our young graduates got jobs. Currently, our students have the opportunity to participate in internship programs offered by companies. During this job fair, we also witnessed a fact that there are few people with higher education among people with disabilities. Most of the disabled youth with higher education were graduates of our university. “Gilan Holding”, “Norm”, “Veysaloglu”, “Deloitte”, SOCAR AQSH, etc. companies also hired several graduates with disabilities. It is a gratifying fact that all official institutions and state enterprises hire people with disabilities and help them solve their employment problems. In addition, information tours of the students of our Center to the corporate sector are organized. For example, our students with disabilities recently got to know the production process at Ulduz Chocolate Factory of the Verseloğlu Group of Companies. These events play a major role in increasing practical knowledge and skills.

– Almost all students with disabilities who study on a paid basis believe that it would be more appropriate for their education fees to be paid by the state, which would allow them to allocate more funds for their treatment. How do you feel about this proposal? Do you think it would be desirable for the state to pay the tuition fees of such students in the future?

– I think that it would be admirable for our state to pay the tuition fees of students with disabilities. At least taking into account the degree of disability, it would be a positive step to provide them with certain concessions, to completely exempt group I disabled people from the education fee.

I highly appreciate the support of the UNEC Student Trade Union Committee in this regard. This organization has also taken over the tuition fees of several students. At the same time, we are looking for sponsors for our students. The Youth Fund came up with a wonderful initiative. This initiative regarding the payment of education fees for students with low financial means caused great interest and was appreciated in the society. The Youth Fund also took over the payment of one year’s tuition fees for one of our students with group I disabilities. Here, I would like to mention the great support of the Veysaloglu Group of Companies. Of course,

We should not forget the programs and projects adopted by the state. Under the direction of the leadership of the republic, serious work is being done in this direction. I am sure that in the coming years, existing problems will be eliminated and people with disabilities will live and work with equal rights in all areas of our lives.

– Is the activity of the Inclusive Education Center provided only on the basis of the internal capabilities of the university, or is there any external financial support for the Center? In general, to what extent would it be desirable to provide some kind of financial support from the outside in terms of more effective operation of the Center for Inclusive Education?

-UNEC Inclusive Education Center is a structure of the university. Our center is attached to the university and we provide all our activities at the internal expense of our university. As UNEC rector, professor Adalat Muradov emphasized, inclusive education is one of UNEC’s priority issues. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank the university management for their help and support. I would like to proudly note that both the entire management of UNEC and every employee support us in this work.

– Do you think the media, especially TV channels, need to pay more attention to people with health problems and their deeper integration into society? How important is the education of society through mass media.

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