Around the world, one of the key barriers that people with disabilities face is the negative attitudes toward them and a lack of awareness of their rights and needs. Stigma, discrimination, segregation, isolation and negative perception are all too common.
In Zanzibar, the introduction of inclusive education and awareness-raising activities conducted by the ministry of education and civil society seem to have resulted in a positive shift in attitudes of parents, teachers and the community.
Linking schools to the communities and tapping into community resources is no easy task, but it’s crucial for changing attitudes and beliefs. Today, 28% of Zanzibar’s 426 schools offer inclusive education.
Creating an inclusive learning environment
The program in Zanzibar is changing the way marginalized children are being perceived, served, and included in the education system. It is a commitment to “creating a safe learning environment which supports all learners according to their needs”, as stipulated in the Inclusive Education and Life Skills (IELS) plan.
A grant of US$5.2 million from the Global Partnership for Education helps to train hundreds of teachers on guidance and counseling, detection of special needs, classroom skills for inclusion, and handling cases of child marriage and early pregnancies. Over 250,000 learning books for inclusive education have been distributed to schools and children have received glasses and hearing aids when needed.
Policymakers from the IELS Unit in Zanzibar’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, educators, the Global Partnership and other key partners such as the Swedish Embassy and UNICEF have worked together to make this happen.
More needs to be done beyond equipment and training
It would be easy if inclusive education simply required these kind of activities to make the education system more responsive to a diverse student population. While the right equipment, trained teachers, diversified assessment systems so that children with different skills and abilities can be tested are important – these activities are not enough.
Giving excluded children and those with disabilities education opportunities also requires a robust data system, coordinated action outside of the education sector, and changing attitudes and beliefs towards people with disabilities.
In Zanzibar, data from 2008 indicated that the literacy rate of disabled persons was 52%, compared to 75% among those without disability. The net enrollment rate among children with disabilities was 38% compared to 74% for children without disabilities. More recent data is not yet analyzed to ascertain progress.
Involving multiple government agencies and non-state actors
Zanzibar has a revised Disability Policy, a National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPD) and a Department of Disability Affairs (DDA) within the First Vice President Office – all of which are existing offices.
There are also around 13 disabled people organizations (DPOs) and the umbrella civil society body --the DPO Federation of Zanzibar-- is well positioned to coordinate advocacy and programming efforts.
Offices like the Department of Disability Affairs can empower disability focal points across different ministries to ensure that the rights and needs of people with disabilities are considered in their plans, strategies and programs.
With sufficient resources, a strong DDA could also lead the analysis of disability-related census questions and capture data on emotional illnesses like depression, anxiety and other types of mild to moderate psychiatric illnesses. This would help to capture the magnitude of disability issues that need to be addressed.
A national monitoring, evaluation and information system for interventions addressing disability would allow for impact assessment and more effective delivery of services.
All children can learn
For too long education systems have served those who fit readily into it, deeming those who don’t unable to be educated, or at least unable to be educated with everyone else.
In the process, entire generations of young people have been excluded from education, and societies have not benefited from their dynamism, creativity and intelligence.
Inclusive education policies and programs require schools to recognize that all children can learn, that all children have a right to learn and that children learn differently.
Inclusive education policies and programs can help mobilize communities and families to engage with children’s early educational development. Policies should also embed inclusive education early within the school system.
A strong focus on inclusion in the early years can go a long way to ensure early detection and intervention. Play, early stimulation, self-help, and life skills need to be recognized as equally important as numeracy and literacy skills.
Inclusive education policies can help ensure that pre-service and in-service teacher training programs have inclusive education embedded throughout the teacher training curriculum.
During their training, teachers need to be familiarized with the existence of support services for students with disabilities, and should be given plenty of opportunities for practical learning about inclusion.
Focus on inclusive education in GPE’s strategy
The Global Partnership for Education supports developing countries to adapt their systems in order to become more equitable and inclusive.
A cornerstone of our efforts is helping countries enhance their data and measurement systems so that they know if children, including children with disabilities, have similar educational opportunities and whether resources are allocated to them. Inclusive education is a key objective of GPE’s new strategy for the next 5 years.
Creating a culture of inclusion requires partnerships
The World Bank and the World Health Organization estimate that people with disabilities represent nearly 15% of the global population. How does each country go about making sure that its largest minority group is part of society on an equal basis with others?
The experience from Zanzibar reminds us that collaborating and seeking partnerships within and outside of the education sector can contribute to giving all children a brighter future.