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Education for All?


When we take into account that the ability to read and write among the adults with disabilities in developing countries is as low as 3% and in certain countries as low as one percent for women with disabilities, and understanding the devastating consequences of illiteracy on the individual, the family and society it would be a global catastrophe to also deny today’s children with disabilities the opportunity to go to school, learn to read and write and to lead the society from front.


According to the International Disability and Development Consortium report, globally about 32.2 million school-age children with disabilities are kept out of the classroom.

When it comes to India according to a report on the 2011 census, nearly 2.6 million disabled children either did not see the inside of a school or had to drop out. Another recent UN report said, 75 percent of children with disabilities in India do not attend any formal educational institute in their lifetime. This is despite the existence of a seemingly comprehensive policy on education with provisions to make the Indian education system inclusive.


So, how open are the classrooms to the children with disabilities?


At present, 125 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This means that these countries undertake to follow the Convention in their legislation and in their political work. Article 7 and Article 24 are very clear on the subject of the right to education of children with disabilities.


According to article 7: States Parties shall take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment by children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

According to article 24: The right to an education shall be realized without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity. Persons with disabilities may not be excluded from the general education system.


Why are these children not in classrooms?


Poverty: There is a clear link between poverty and disability. In many developing countries, a family with very limited earnings and several children to look after faces a number of heavy expenses linked to attending school. In a situation where school transportation, school books and school uniforms have to be paid for, school is rarely an option for the child with a disability.


Prejudice: Prejudice can be as fatal to the dream of school as poverty. Ignorance about the cause of a disability and the capabilities of a child with a disability means that millions of children never get the chance to show what they can do in the classroom. Feelings of shame, fear of being attacked or bullied and lack of teachers with the necessary skills are some of the factors that hit a child with a disability hard.


Accessibility: School books that are unavailable in Braille, a ramp up to the school door that has not been built, a wheelchair that costs too much, a sign language teacher or interpreter who is unavailable, educational materials that have not been adapted for children with a cognitive disability. Poor accessibility takes many forms and all of these just add to the existing problems.


Lack of proper training for teachers is a very big problem in itself. Majority of the teachers have not received any training in special education nor had any experience teaching students with disabilities. These teachers and educators also do not have access to support services in their classrooms.


What can be done to improve the present scenario?


A comprehensive policy on inclusive education should be drafted which involves methods of evaluation, teaching, training, appropriate curriculum, etc., and a coordinating agency should be set up to monitor the implementation of the law on inclusive education in a systematic and timely manner. Changes to the law should also focus on the aspects of disability and educational reforms that have been excluded.


Further, the government needs to address issues of implementation at play with respect to inclusive education. For example, schools often deny admission to the children with disabilities, despite the existence of regulations in place which clearly prohibit denial of admission.


Regular monitoring and evaluation in schools by evaluators, who are preferably external, can help ascertain whether the laws in place are indeed being implemented, and to what extent.


Opening up these closed classrooms requires a broad spectrum of initiatives. But first the authorities must make a concerted effort to collect data on these children and their school situation.


Many countries need supporting functions and extensive information work to show the importance of attending school for all children.


In order for school attendance to be meaningful, the countries governments, public authorities and schools must work to ensure all children are able to benefit from the education. The school’s values must be imbued with a conviction of the equal value of all people if all children are to feel welcome in the classroom.


Conclusion:


Being able to go to school is a human right established in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which further enhances the previous rights conventions. Education strengthens an individual’s self-image and self-confidence. It is a signal from society that you are worth investing in. Education gives you the chance to work and support yourself. You belong, you matter and you can participate in society.


But in far too many countries, the right to an education is far from self-evident for people with disabilities. Once you have been deprived of the chance to learn to read and write, it is very difficult to be seen and treated like an independent, competent member of society when you become an adult.


If the countries’ governments, authorities and aid organizations cooperate among themselves and with the disability rights movement on issues relating to the school and college situation for children with disabilities, only then can concrete improvements come about a good deal faster.

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