After Fred Haga lost his eyesight as a teenager in Kenya, no one thought he could continue his education. “There was very little awareness,” he says. For seven years, he was out of the education system, until he found a high school that would allow him to complete his studies.
This experience led him to what he has been doing for the past fifteen years: making sure that children with disabilities have access to education.
Today, he is the Acting Director for Special Needs Education in the Ministry of Education in Kenya. Inclusive education is gaining a lot of traction in his country, reflecting the growing momentum at the global level. More teachers are being trained on inclusive education and in May 2018, the government passed a new policy for learners with disabilities.
Eight countries come together for a roundtable
Mr. Haga recently shared Kenya’s ongoing work on inclusive education during a technical Roundtable on disability-inclusive educational planning. Co-organized by UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) and UNICEF, the event brought together development partners, disabled persons’ organizations, and government officials from eight countries.
Along with the Kenyan representatives, key stakeholders from Cambodia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, Nepal, South Africa, and Vietnam shared promising practices and challenges during the three days with the objective of enhancing planning for inclusive education in the future. A two-week online discussion phase also took place prior to the meeting at IIEP in Paris.
Defining the scope of inclusivity
Inclusive education means that all children - no matter who they are - can learn together in the same school.
This must go beyond mere integration. The whole system must undergo change and the school must meet the diverse needs of all learners, enabling them to reach their full potential and contribute to community and national development. While many people agree with this principle, countries worldwide are grappling with implementing this principle at scale, especially in under-resourced systems.
To help respond to this challenge, the participants delved into a possible framework for inclusive education. While still in draft form, the framework - designed by IIEP and UNICEF - first covers the so-called enabling environment required to make inclusive education truly happen.
This includes having a set of laws and policies to help guide actions, a robust data collection system to identify and respond to the different needs of learners, strong leadership and management, as well as sustainable financing for education that embraces an inclusive perspective. The framework then goes into service delivery, covering different aspects of supply, quality, and demand.
The participants also put forward ideas to include as discussions on inclusive education continue to evolve:
- Turn special schools into resource centers to serve a wider network of public schools so that expertise in special needs education is shared more broadly allowing more children to learn.
- Tap into new technology and innovative funding modalities, e.g. encouraging the private sector to help with the screening of children and in the provision of assistive materials.
- Recognize that inclusive education is an ongoing process; it can appear daunting at first, but most countries are making progress; also ensure that pilot programs are rigorous and successful ones are scaled-up.
- Ensure that there is a well understood purpose for data collection so that data analysis informs practice and the allocation of resources and support.
- Make sure that governments and all stakeholders are held accountable for their responsibilities in terms of inclusive education.
- Address the other causes of marginalization, including gender, location, ethnicity, language and conflict and/or disaster areas, which also impact children with disabilities.
- Work across sectors and in collaboration with other ministries, as well as with the community-at-large, persons with disabilities, and parents.
A call for action
A lack of data, discrimination, and stigma around disabilities has led children with disabilities being among the most excluded groups from education. The participation and commitment of a broad spectrum of stakeholders as well as large-scale awareness programs will make inclusive education a reality. We all need to be in this together. For as Fred Haga said, “no child should have to leave school because of acquiring a disability.”
While most would agree on the need for inclusive education, the key challenge has been transforming commitment into plans that are implemented at scale within countries so that all people with disabilities are reached. The shared experiences and findings from the Roundtable will feed into a training program that IIEP and UNICEF will begin offering in 2019 on inclusive education. This will form part of a global response in partnership with others to ensure that children and people with disabilities are no longer neglected. Read more about the event in an interview here.