Disability & Inclusive Education
Disability – The broader picture
The recently published World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank (WB) Report on Disability (2011) estimated 15% of the world’s population to be persons with disabilities (WHO & WB, 2011: 7).
Most importantly, the report noted the disproportional affects which disability has on children in particular, from lower income countries and those living in the poorest wealth quintile of the world’s population.
Not only are children and adults in these circumstances most at risk of impairment, but it is in these circumstances, with massive socio-economic challenges, where the needs of children with disabilities are most often marginalised and disregarded.
Nowhere are these needs ignored more than in the sphere of education. While at a policy level the rights of children with disabilities to access quality education are recognized, conditions on the ground mean that they remain those children most excluded from accessing education and its benefits.
In most countries in Southern Africa early efforts at providing education for children with disabilities has been through separate special schools, usually targeted at specific impairments.
These institutions have only reached a small proportion of children with disabilities. This system of separation has tended to isolate them from their families and communities and, in many cases, do not equip them with the knowledge and skills they will require to pursue higher education opportunities and access productive employment.
The ADA IE Study – Southern Africa
In 2011 and 2012, the Africa Disability Alliance (ADA) undertook a study on access to education for children with disabilities into five countries in Southern Africa (Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland).
The study synthesized the findings from the five case studies in an attempt to provide an overview of what is happening across the region and to offer insights that will be of benefit to governments and role players in their efforts to address the needs of children with disabilities in their countries.
In most cases, these policy frameworks were supported and informed by the country’s signing or ratification of important international and regional human rights treaties which address directly or indirectly the rights of persons with disabilities, including their right to education.
The findings from the study showed showed that children with disabilities in Southern Africa lived with the effects of disability and struggled with a myriad of challenges that can be attributed to the absence of an enabling environment.
They were often deprived of resources and services that would enable them to access education which would contribute to their fullest development. But, on the other hand, the study showed clearly that Southern Africa has made important progress towards the development of strong, enabling policy frameworks aimed at addressing the educational needs of children with disabilities.
Interestingly, the findings also showed clearly that strong political will was in place across the five countries towards addressing the historical inequalities experienced by children with disabilities in accessing quality education provision.
There was also strong evidence from the study to suggest that these countries recognized the importance of key components to an inclusive education system, such as;
adequately trained teachers;
appropriate and accessible support systems, including those for learners requiring high levels of support
specialised assistance; etc.
Another key strength across the region was the existence of a vibrant disability rights movement and willingness on the part of both these organisations and the government to engage and work in partnership towards a common objective.
The establishment of such partnerships which harnessed local knowledge and maximized existing community resources were recognized as good practices across the region.
The Importance of Alliances
Across all five countries the policy frameworks guiding education provision for children with disabilities were also informed by national constitutional provisions.
These provisions, either spoke directly to the rights of PWDs (e.g. by noting disability as a basis for unfair discrimination) or provide for the protection from discrimination of all citizens.
In addition, these constitutional frameworks made the provision for the realization of the right to state funded primary education for all children – a very important provision for the promotion of access to quality education for children with disabilities.
In countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Malawi these progressive constitutional frameworks have emerged out of important political changes associated with the building of democracy in these countries.
While the study was able to identify strong, enabling policy frameworks across the five countries targeted, it has to be noted that some weaknesses are evident in the policy frameworks.
These weaknesses have effectively restricted the right of children with disabilities to education, especially in inclusive environments, where state resources are limited.
For example, in all of the five countries targeted by this study, it was recognized in the policy frameworks that limitations may need to be imposed on the realization of socio-economic rights.
These were argued to be necessary in contexts defined by huge resource-intensive developmental challenges that the state must respond to.
It was clear, however, that in some cases the necessary limitation of socio-economic rights provided a loop-hole which states used to justify their failure to implement the policy commitments noted above.
The Importance of Alliances
SAFOD believes in the importance alliance or partnership building in all its work. That explains why for the past year or so, we have prioritized most of work on building new partnerships and alliances and strengthening existing ones.
Because inclusion involves everyone in society at all levels, collaboration and networking are core strategies that we use to achieve inclusion.”
It is against this background that SAFOD is committed to forming alliances with various stakeholders, including the Africa Disability Alliance (ADA), JICA, the SADC Council of NGOs, and many other strategic players.
Most importantly, we are geared to strengthening collaboration within our national affiliates themselves.
Disability – The broader picture