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Children with Abilities not Disabilities: Why Inclusive Education is Important

April 4, 2012

I have been Living Below The Line for RESULTS in order to raise awareness on two important, but interlinked, issues: extreme poverty and the exclusion of children with disabilities from education.

I have spoken a lot about Live Below The Line, but I feel like I’ve only touched on inclusive education.

Despite Millennium Development Goal 2 committing world leaders to achieving universal primary education by 2015, there has been widespread failure to provide the specific support needed to ensure that children with disabilities have equal access as those without.

Children with disabilities are frequently excluded from education. UNESCO, the UN agency that monitors global education, estimates that around 22 million children with disabilities have no access to education. This figure may seem shocking, but this figure is likely to be far higher, since many children are often hidden and therefore unaccountable. In some regions the problem is particularly acute; in sub-Saharan Africa for instance it is believed that up to 95% of children with disabilities are excluded from school.

Exclusion has severe consequences for people with disabilities. Often, failure to gain an education leads to a life of unbreakable poverty for people in many areas of the developing world. This is reflected in the fact that only around 10% of the world’s population has a disability, but it is estimated that disabled people make up 20% of the global population living in poverty.

There are many reasons why children with disabilities are unable to exercise their right to education. One of the most damaging barriers is the substantial stigma, discrimination and prejudice that comes with having a disability. It is widely believed that children suffering from a disability are incapable of learning.

This is an unfortunate and dangerous misconception. The vast majority of children suffering from some sort of disability are suffering with a physical impairment, such as impaired hearing, or some kind of mobility issue. There is nothing hampering their mental capacity to learn. These are children with abilities, not disabilities.

RESULTS are advocating for the inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream school systems. I’d like to point out that there are some children who will require separate schooling in order to properly address their educational needs. But for the vast majority, who have the mental capacity to learn just as any other child, the benefits of inclusive education are astronomical.

For one, it is significantly cheaper to provide inclusive education than have to build a separate school from scratch. Research conducted by UNESCO suggest that it is up to 9 times cheaper.

Secondly, the mainstreaming of disabled children into the school system helps to address the issue of discrimination that so often leads to exclusion in the first place. When children and adults see the power that good education has on the lives of disabled children, many of the negative preconceptions they have about disability are broken down.

Thirdly, inclusive education does not just improve the education of the specific child, but it also improves the quality of education for the class as a whole. This may not be obvious, and many people might assume that inclusive education would have the opposite effect. For instance, that it could take away from the quality teaching time from the other children. In actual fact, when you provide a teacher with the appropriate training in inclusive education, the overall quality of teaching significantly increases. Teachers are taught to not only pay attention to, and identify, the needs of the child. Teachers become more sensitive to the signs which indicate the child is struggling. This increased awareness and sensitivity to their pupils learning experience applies to able-bodied children as well. Teachers are encouraged to teach children as their own special case, and identify the specific needs of each child so they are able to progress.

Failing to educate children with disabilities often leaves them in a lifelong poverty trap, whilst a decent education can provide a lifeline. Anne Wafula-Strike – a Kenyan-born UK Paralympian and Ambassador for Action for Disability and Development International who contracted polio as a child – argues that “when given access to their fundamental rights, disabled people can achieve the equality that enables them to make vital contributions to society, improving their lives and the lives of others.”

The UK government is a leading provider of aid to education in the developing world. They have stated, and written into policy, commitments to address disability and education in their programming. Despite the existence of these strong policies, there has been a consistent failure to implement them.

For example, in 2007-08 DFID provided £105 million as budget support to Tanzania, of which £26 million went to the education sector. Of this approximately £66,000 or 0.25% went on school places for children with disabilities.

I have been Living Below The Line for RESULTS UK – one of the six major partners involved in Live Below The Line –  who are campaigning tirelessly to change the situation for the children that are currently out of education and for future generations of children. RESULTS are working to change the policies, practices and beliefs that leave so many disabled children excluded from education. By Living Below the Line for RESULTS, you are helping to provide a better future for millions of children.

If you believe in the importance of inclusive education I encourage you to either sign up to the challenge or donate to support the work of RESULTS.


From → Uncategorized

  1. Tina de Souza permalink

    Impressive article!

  2. theelectriccane permalink

    I am visually impaired and attended both mainstream and residential, special schools. I also work with kids who have disabilities in Asia.
    I found both types of school beneficial for different reasons. At the school for the blind, I learned to be independent and interact with other children. During my primary school years at a mainstream school, focus was on both basic daily living skillls and education. I participated in school programs, including safety patrol. I had a few close friends, and thanks to the support from teachers, did quite well. I also attended mainstream school during my last year at secondary school in order to take advantage of academic opportunities not available at the residential school. I had very few friends, however, and had no way to participate in after school activities.

    In countries such as Thailand, vietnam and Laos, there is some form of inclusion for some disabilities. For example, blind children in Vietnam are taught at the school for the blind until class 4. After, they continue to learn at the school, while attending mainstream classes during the morning or afternoon. Many teachers are not taught how to instruct blind students in maths or science, and class sizes are usually very large.

    For deaf students, the situation is quite different. There are some special classes for deaf students at regular schools, but these students don’t interact frequently with peers. For children with learning disabilities, there is little in terms of inclusion. Most children either stay home or go to special schools. If a child has a disability like cerebral palsy, or is affected severely by agent orange, the family keeps the child at home. In some cases, the child is sent to an orphanage. even special schools do not have the resources to help these students.

    Lack of inclusion isn’t limited to developing countries, either. I studied Chinese at the University of Florence and was told by the Chinese professor that I was slow and couldn’t follow the class. I was on the 10th chapter of the book, while my classmates were still trying to pronounce the alphabet. She told me I was allowed to stay at home and not come to class.

    In order to succeed in today’s competitive society, students need to be taught in educational settings that will benefit them and allow them to fullfil their potential. In developing countries, where lack of resources, and knowledge, are predominant, including children with special needs in mainstream schools schools will take a lot of work.

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