In­clu­sive so­ci­ety starts from ed­u­ca­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - OPINION -

An air­line re­cently told a man that his autis­tic son would not be al­lowed to board a flight with him be­cause “the boy’s be­hav­ior was odd” as he was re­port­edly seen yelling and fre­net­i­cally walk­ing back and forth in the busy air­port. The in­ci­dent sparked an on­line de­bate, with some ne­ti­zens sup­port­ing the air­line’s de­ci­sion, be­cause they be­lieved the 13-year-old boy’s be­hav­ior was trou­bling other pas­sen­gers. An­other group con­tends that the air­line’s ground staff ’s de­ci­sion was ar­bi­trary, es­pe­cially be­cause they didn’t pro­vide the nec­es­sary help to the boy who did no one any harm.

Was it a care­less de­ci­sion? Was it dis­crim­i­na­tory? Was it wrong?

In our daily life we of­ten make de­ci­sions based on prej­u­dice against, lack of knowl­edge about or fear of some­body or some­thing that be­haves or looks dif­fer­ent from “nor­mal”. It is eas­ier to walk away than try­ing to un­der­stand those who don’t fit our per­cep­tion of nor­mal. Un­for­tu­nately, this seems to be com­mon in many coun­tries, in­clud­ing China.

Con­certed ef­forts of the government, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, fam­i­lies — so­ci­ety as a whole — will be needed to re­move the prej­u­dice against peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, es­pe­cially chil­dren, and help them be­come full cit­i­zens who en­joy all the rights and pub­lic ser­vices. Sadly peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are of­ten in­vis­i­ble in so­ci­ety. And if they re­main in­vis­i­ble, the bar­ri­ers against them will never be re­moved.

Stud­ies have shown that the lack of ac­cess to some es­sen­tial ser­vices such as ed­u­ca­tion and health­care makes peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties more vul­ner­a­ble to poverty. To break the vi­cious cy­cle of poverty and fos­ter a more in­clu­sive so­ci­ety, we need to start from child­hood.

China has made great progress in im­prov­ing the well-be­ing of chil­dren in gen­eral, but the same can­not be said about kids with dis­abil­i­ties. Statis­tics from the China Dis­abled Per­sons’ Fed­er­a­tion show that only 72 per­cent of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties aged between 6 and 14 years re­ceive the nine-year ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, com­pared with nearly 100 per­cent for chil­dren of the same age group in gen­eral.

For those chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties who have ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, half of them at­tend spe­cial schools and still face in­nu­mer­able chal­lenges in find­ing suit­able jobs. In other words, they end up on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety be­cause they have not been im­parted the proper knowl­edge and skills needed to com­pete in main­stream so­ci­ety.

In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion is the key to cre­at­ing a truly in­clu­sive so­ci­ety. In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion means chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties at­tend main­stream schools and, while fol­low­ing the same cur­ric­ula as all other chil­dren, they also re­ceive spe­cial at­ten­tion and en­cour­age­ment from spe­cially trained teach­ers in class­rooms equipped with all the nec­es­sary re­sources.

Since 2012 in­ten­sive pi­lot in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams have been launched in Sichuan and Yun­nan prov­inces, and the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

Teach­ers have been equipped with nec­es­sary skills and knowl­edge to de­sign per­son­al­ized study plans for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties, and re­source class­rooms have been set up with tools and toys that can be used for men­tal and phys­i­cal stim­u­la­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of such chil­dren.

Last year, world lead­ers adopted the am­bi­tious Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals, which set a clear bench­mark for progress to­ward a world in which every child will have the right to life, devel­op­ment, pro­tec­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion.

There is still a long way to go be­fore all the bar­ri­ers that pre­vent chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties from liv­ing a fully in­clu­sive life are re­moved.

Save the Chil­dren, along with some other NGOs, is com­mit­ted to join­ing hands with part­ners and in­di­vid­u­als to make sure that all chil­dren, in­clud­ing chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties, re­ceive qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion by 2030.

The au­thor is coun­try di­rec­tor for Save the Chil­dren China.

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