Inclusive education for all: Joint front required
In the days and months ahead, it is going to be harder and harder to make the case for investing in truly inclusive and transformative education, but perhaps there are a few different and complementary approaches that could be used to keep alive the rights and the dreams of children and families neglected by the system so far
With most of the schools across the country re-starting their classroom-based learning, we should ask ourselves about the educational future of thousands of children living with learning and developmental disabilities across the country.
Even before the pandemic, their constitutional rights to quality and inclusive education were only partially fulfilled, mostly by non-state, not-for-profit actors engaged in inclusive education and only partially by autonomous special needs schools under the purview of the Ministry of Education.
Right now, the ultimate goal of integrating special educational schools within the mainstream national educational system, now co-run by provincial and local governments, remains even further away from a realistic timeframe.
In the days and months ahead, it is going to be harder and harder to make the case for investing in truly inclusive and transformative education, but perhaps there are a few different and complementary approaches that could be used to keep alive the rights and the dreams of children and families neglected by the system so far.
First non-state actors, local, national and international alike, should come together and forge a common advocacy front. There have been outstanding cases of successful advocacy in the past that brought the system to better acknowledge and recognise the rights of children with autism.
These success stories not only prove that passion and skills compounded by sheer tenacity of a few activists and organisations like Autism Care Nepal can truly make the difference.
It also proves that the “system” can be receptive and progressive at the same time, willing to listen to expertise from the civil society. If specific single issue advocacy initiatives proved to be winning, imagine what could be achieved if all the different stakeholders come together with a joint and common advocacy agenda.
I know it sounds ambitious, challenging and naïve at the same time, but let me pitch this idea first.
Setting aside egos and specific interests, a coalition of organisations could jointly come up with a platform to engage the state at all its levels and re-imagine an educational system that does a much better job at including and involving children with learning and developmental disabilities.
Moreover, this campaign should not be a standing alone platform but be agile and flexible enough to connect and make alliances with other non-state actors involved in other sub-areas of inclusive education. This point is important because at the end of the day, we need to aim at creating a better national educational system for all groups that have been marginalised and discriminated so far and include private-for-profit institutions that also have a clear social mission before the society.
This joint coalition could not only come up with common positions and practical suggestions but could also play a fundamental role in sharing and disseminating the best practices being implemented in the country. For example, ENGAGE has been working on the concept of “Inclusive Learning Fellows”, basically a batch of paid graduate professionals focussed on supporting and assisting teachers and schools to become more receptive and inclusive of children with learning and developmental disabilities.
Likewise there are other best practices in the country being tried out by local organisations and international NGOs like Humanity and Inclusion and World Education, just to mention a few, that have great expertise in this field and have been doing groundbreaking work and research across the country. All these organisations, small and big alike, are driven by passion, skills and have tons of experiences and insights to share. Coming together in a loose network could help organisations learn from each other and even imagine possible collaborations.
It was not too long ago that the British Council in Nepal had organised a groundbreaking initiative on inclusive education in Nepal, a national conference focussed on various aspects of making the national education system able to meet the diverse challenges of inclusion. We should start from there and re-connect and re-group to brainstorm about partnerships and collaborations centered on the idea of a joint advocacy front for inclusive schools.
Each organisation, small or big, has its own dynamics and needs, and many of us are at the moment in dire straits financially. The spirit of survival and the highly competitive landscape should not prevent the creation of such collaboration.
I am not so naïve to think that any cooperation, even the loosest one, will come easily or naturally, but we have a moral duty to try to unite.
Perhaps, there are out there better ideas than what we have been brainstorming and researching at ENGAGE, and we should all try to focus on the longer-term goal rather than on narrower and shorter interests. Perhaps, international organisations like UNICEF could enable such a collaborative scenario and perhaps a consortium could be created to develop and roll out the most promising ideas.
In order to change the status quo, we need to learn, and we can only learn if we keep trying forging new ideas on the ground. This approach will allow us to identify the best practices that could be supported and then scaled by the different layers of government across the country.
Let’s keep piloting, let’s share our achievements and challenges alike, and let’s try to agree on some joint advocacy points to be the forefront of a new national effort to make all the schools of the country more inclusive of the rights of all children, not just a few.
Galimberti is co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities