Twelve-year-old Dato’s dream is to become a traditional Georgian dancer. “Acharuli is my favorite [dance],” he said, as he lifted his arms and chin, and looked out at an imaginary audience. “It is difficult, but I practice every day.”
Dato may need to be more persistent than most youths as he pursues his aspirations; that is because Dato has Down’s syndrome. But the future is much brighter these days for him than just a few years ago. Prior to 2005, he likely would have been a shut-in, unable to sample the wonders of the world, or even attend a Georgian public school. But now he has a much better shot at realizing his dreams.
A law providing for inclusive education was passed in 2005, with a seven-year phase-in period. Starting in 2012, it became compulsory for all public schools to accept children with special needs. Today, 3,445 students with special education needs – ranging from hearing impairment to autism and cerebral palsy – attend Georgian public schools.
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Monica Ellena is a Tbilisi-based freelance journalist, who has worked previously as an elementary school teacher in Italy and a university instructor in Georgia.