Nepal | August 12, 2020

Inclusive education: Dismantling the barriers

Biplob Acharya
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Children with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination. Access to school for children with disabilities is limited by various factors. This leads to their exclusion from society and hampers their financial, social and human development

Illustration: Ratna Dagar Shrestha/THT

Education is one of the most effective ways to smash the vicious cycle of unfair treatment children with disabilities frequently face. According to the World Report on Disability, about one billion people in the world are living with some form of disability, with at least one in ten being children and 80 per cent living in developing countries like Nepal. Children with disabilities are in most of the cases not likely to start school, and if they do, they might not transition to secondary school.

Access to school for children with disabilities is limited by various factors—lack of understanding about their needs, a shortage of trained teachers, educational resources and conveniences.

Depriving children with disabilities of their right to education leaves a long-term impact on their lives. This as a whole delays their financial, social and human development.

Article 7 of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which the Government of Nepal ratified in 2010, calls on state parties to take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment by children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children. The consent is explicable: children with disabilities have the right to be part of regular classroom.

Despite some progress in laws and policies, thousands of children with disabilities in Nepal are still facing barriers in accessing quality, inclusive education. In most of the public schools, children with disabilities are segregated from other children.

There are different methods through which we can ensure inclusive education.

Firstly, there is a need to understand and value diversity.

Nepal is a multi-cultural country where more than 100 languages are spoken and about the same number of ethnic communities lives across the country. Thus our cultural diversity can provide creative ideas to uplift our society.

Children with disabilities convey potency in the classroom. We usually pay attention to where children with disabilities lack, whereas we have to focus on where they can do well.

Studies have shown that there is no dearth of intelligence and vigour in children with disabilities.

For instance, high spatial aptitude for a lot of children with dyslexia, innovative thinking in students with ADHD, systemic capabilities (such as brilliance with computer) amid those with autism spectrum disorders, personal allure and human magnetism in many students with intellectual disabilities.

Students with disabilities facilitate an encouraging environment of generousness in the classroom. When a visually impaired boy was fully included in a local Montessori house in Kathmandu, his teacher had to say: “It’s not just that he introduced diversity to the classroom, he made his peers less self-seeking, thereby creating an environment where all the students became more obliging to each other.”

Teachers’ role is very crucial in ensuring inclusive education. Teachers need to create an environment of anticipation for children with special needs.

Intelligence of students with special needs grows better in richer learning settings. A research done in the United States of America during the 1960s at the University of California, Berkeley, showed that rats living in an affluent and more inclusive setting had more dendrites or branches extending out of neurons or brain cells linked with other neurons than rats in a more excluding setting. Scientists have tried to understand this theory in the promising area of neuroplasticity.

Inclusive education will be a pipedream unless educators show sincerity and make efforts to creating an all-encompassing setting where children with or without disabilities can learn together. Teachers should first assess children’s aptitude, potency and capacity as much as before enrolling children with special needs into the class.

Earlier when students with disabilities who were unable to receive specialised instructions performed poorly and suffered low motivation and confidence. But when such children are given an equal opportunity, studies have shown, to learn along with other children, they have performed better.

In this context, the role of technology is also very important. Technology has served to empower special needs of such students and enable them to do extremely well—not just in the classroom but also in the community.

Exclusion is an excruciating practice whereas inclusion is, on the contrary, an amusing practice.

The United Nations convention identifies this fundamental human reality when it says that all people deserve to be included in the social institutions of culture.

There is an urgent need to promote accessible and inclusive learning spaces and invest in teacher training for inclusive education. The community also needs to be involved in promoting inclusive education. Obstacles that prevent children with disabilities from accessing quality education are located both within and outside the education system—for example transport, social services for assistive devices and health among others—and we need to have a multi-sectoral approach to dismantle these barriers so as to ensure quality, inclusive education.

Acharya is visually impaired student and is doing Master’s in Special Needs Education from TU

A version of this article appears in print on September 18, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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