"Empowered to empower" learners with disabilities
An Eswatini participant said, “My role has changed greatly. I no longer just sympathize with people with disabilities but instead I am empowered to empower them by letting them have a voice and taking their views seriously.”
Another participant found the school visit at the start of the course especially useful, as it helped set the tone for the journey ahead. “It was a real eye-opener. I never imagined there was such a mismatch between policy and implementation.”
While most view inclusive education as a process and not something that can materialize overnight, participants also said it must begin in the earliest stages of planning.
"Through interacting with different members from other countries, I have learnt that we should fight for the inclusive education curriculum to be included in the initial teacher training colleges. This will help to overcome problems of shortage of trained teachers in mainstream schools, which is one of the major barriers to inclusive education practices," said another participant.
Building knowledge and skills around inclusive education
The course focused on diagnosing the education sector, an analysis that helps education officials grasp the overall health of the system, including its strong points and challenges.
From Kenya, a representative of Special Needs Education said that they now understand how inclusive education factors into the entire planning cycle.
"I need to look at all components of the education sector analysis before even thinking of the education sector plan. If we get it right in the analysis, it will follow that the plan will easily accommodate disability-inclusive education," the participant said.
A special needs education officer with the Ministry of Education in Rwanda similarly said that they now fully grasped the framework for disability-inclusive education, a working document created by IIEP-UNESCO and UNICEF in the run-up to the launch of the course.
"From now, I am going to be using this framework to see how our education sector is applying it for the benefit of children with disabilities. My role has changed: from someone who just implement to someone who plans."
Inclusive education settings provide a sense of belonging, stimulation, and socialization for all students irrespective of background and ability. Catering to the learning needs of every child, using principles of universal design that allow for flexibility in teaching and assessment increases the likelihood for all children to advance to higher levels of education, and ultimately find employment.
It also helps pave the way to tolerant and inclusive societies where all citizens play a role and contribute. Without ensuring that all children can exercise their right to education, SDG 4 will never be reached.
Learners with disabilities are one of the most excluded groups in education, with as many as 33 million children with disabilities out of school, notwithstanding the current school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To summarize one participant from the Ministry of Education in Malawi, inclusive education is the only type of education governments should provide. “Countries are not successfully educating anybody, if some are left behind.”
Learn more about this online course from the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) and UNICEF, which will also launch for ministries of education and partners in South Asia, South East Asia, and Francophone Africa.