In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion is the fu­ture

With a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the prob­lems, ex­clud­ing chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties can cease

Mail & Guardian - - Education - Al­ice Al­bright

Ali Moussa and Mah­moud are six­th­graders in Zanz­ibar. The boys are nearly blind and use record­ing de­vices and Braille ma­chines to read. Thanks to their school and teacher, they are able to keep pace with their peers in the main­stream pri­mary school they at­tend.

De­spite the ob­vi­ous hard­ship, the boys are for­tu­nate that their com­mu­nity has em­braced in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion — the con­cept that chil­dren of all abil­i­ties and back­grounds should learn to­gether. In most de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, ed­u­ca­tors don’t even know how many chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties are ab­sent from school, let alone what those who do at­tend might need in the class­room.

As many as 150-mil­lion chil­dren live with a dis­abil­ity; in low- and lower-mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, about 40% are out of school at pri­mary level (ris­ing to 55% at lower sec­ondary level). But data on dis­abil­i­ties is no­to­ri­ously poor, and the ac­tual num­bers might be far higher. For ex­am­ple, re­cent re­search by the Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion found that fewer than 5% of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties in 51 coun­tries in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa and South Asia are en­rolled in pri­mary school.

Even when chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties do go to school, they are of­ten ex­cluded from learn­ing, be­cause the cur­ricu­lum is not adapted to their needs, and staff mem­bers are not equipped to sup­port them.

Many chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties also face stigma, bul­ly­ing and vi­o­lence. Chil­dren with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties suf­fer the most; girls with dis­abil­i­ties are par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to sex­ual and emo­tional abuse.

The good news is that it is pos­si­ble to ad­dress these de­fi­cien­cies, and we can start with a bet­ter def­i­ni­tion of the is­sue.

In the lit­eral sense, “in­clu­sive” learn­ing means not seg­re­gat­ing chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties into spe­cial schools or class­rooms. Chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties should learn along­side their peers in “main­stream” set­tings. To ac­com­plish this, teach­ers must be trained and pupils have ap­pro­pri­ate learn­ing ma­te­ri­als and de­vices such as cor­rec­tive lenses, hear­ing aids and Braille ma­chines.

But in­clu­sion also means mak­ing deeper, more sys­temic changes to ac­com­mo­date all pupils — re­gard­less of their phys­i­cal or in­tel­lec­tual abil­i­ties, gen­der, eth­nic­ity or lan­guage. To reach this level of in­te­gra­tion, so­cial and cul­tural re­forms are needed to chal­lenge the stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices that so of­ten hold back chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties.

Many govern­ments have sup­ported these ob­jec­tives by en­dors­ing the United Na­tions’ sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals, which com­mit us all to de­liv­er­ing “in­clu­sive and eq­ui­table qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion” for all chil­dren by 2030.

In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion is also in­creas­ingly viewed as a nec­es­sary way to boost eco­nomic out­comes, re­duce wel­fare costs and pro­mote so­cial co­he­sion.

Much work re­mains to be done. For starters, chil­dren and adults with dis­abil­i­ties must be in­cluded in pol­icy dis­cus­sions about their learn­ing. When fam­i­lies, teach­ers, schools and govern­ments make plans to ex­pand in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion, the needs of the pupils them­selves must be heard.

One op­por­tu­nity to lis­ten came on July 24, when the British gov­ern­ment co-hosted the first global dis­abil­ity sum­mit in Lon­don, partly in­tended to el­e­vate the im­por­tance of in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion in low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries.

Sec­ond, bet­ter data is needed to en­sure that ed­u­ca­tion plan­ners know pre­cisely how many chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties are out of school, why they are ab­sent and what bar­ri­ers to learn­ing they face. Only with a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the prob­lems can ed­u­ca­tional ex­clu­sion be over­come.

Third, in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion must be­come part of gov­ern­ment plan­ning and bud­get­ing pro­cesses. Strong po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship will be es­sen­tial if school sys­tems in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are ever to meet the needs of all chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties.

The Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion is work­ing with 67 de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to ad­dress these prob­lems. One of the top pri­or­i­ties is to en­sure that the needs of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties are in­cluded in ed­u­ca­tion plan­ning, and that those plans are ad­e­quately funded.

To­day, roughly half the Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion’s part­ner coun­tries have na­tional dis­abil­ity laws and more than a third have in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies or are in the process of de­vel­op­ing them.

Since 2012, the Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion has al­lo­cated about $440-mil­lion to sup­port in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally, 30% of the grants are tied to progress on eq­uity, ef­fi­ciency and learn­ing out­comes. Its new knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion ex­change ini­tia­tive will also sup­port re­search, data and train­ing to help ed­u­ca­tors to de­velop more in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion strate­gies.

As pupils like Ali Moussa and Mah­moud can at­test, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries have worked hard to give more chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend school. But mil­lions of vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple re­main on the mar­gins. We must work across sec­tors to ef­fect change, and the in­volve­ment of civil so­ci­ety is es­sen­tial. To­gether with govern­ments, ed­u­ca­tors, donors and other part­ners, we can help to close the gap and achieve ed­u­ca­tion for all. —

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