Scholars have taken many approaches to prioritising different aspects of inclusivity in education. Inclusive education in relation to children with disabilities needs to be understood as presence, participation and achievement. Policies and programmes should address their educational needs
Education is a vital instrument in lifting society's marginalised out of poverty. It plays a vital role in empowering women and safeguarding children from exploitation, either through hazardous labour or sexual exploitation. Increasingly, education is considered one of the best financial investments that a government can make.
While Nepal is a signatory to several international human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the government has failed in ensuring an inclusive education system that is available, accessible, appropriate and of good quality for children with all types of disabilities.
Nepal's 2015 constitution enshrines education as a fundamental right to all citizens, including persons with disabilities. The Free and Compulsory Education Act provides for the equal right to access quality education for all without discrimination on any grounds. However, the government is unable to implement the legal policy provisions to enable children with disabilities to realise their right to high-quality, inclusive education, violating the provision enshrined in the constitution.
As a signatory to the CRPD, Nepal needs to develop a comprehensive understanding of the acts, laws and policies framed for children with disabilities.
On December 13, 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the CRPD and an associated optional protocol, hailed as a landmark decision in the struggle to reframe the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities in terms of human rights.
Article 24 of the CRPD requires states to ensure that children with disabilities "are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability" and that they have access to "inclusive, quality and free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live". Further, the convention requires governments to provide reasonable accommodation and the "individual support required within the general education system, to facilitate their education . . . consistent with the goal of full inclusion".
I have visited schools in Ireland, Canada and the United States, where I shared my expertise and knowledge and spoke at length with the teachers on how quality education for students with disabilities could be ensured. These countries provide reasonable accommodations to disabled students, such as support systems, flexible curricula, extra exam time and disability allowances.
As a result, disabled students can often lead fully independent lives, reach the careers they want, and become productive members of their communities.
Despite the limited resources in African and Latin American countries, only a little gap exists between an inclusive education policy and its practical implementation.
Nepal, however, has a long way to go.
The right to education has a clear basis in international human rights law.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) emphasises inclusive education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that all children have a right to receive an education without any discrimination. Article 23 states that "disabled children should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions while ensure dignity, promote self-reliance, and facilitate the child's active participation in the community".
Scholars have taken many approaches to prioritising different aspects of inclusivity in education. Inclusive education in relation to children with disabilities needs to be understood as presence, participation and achievement.
Policies and programmes should address the educational needs of children with disabilities through inclusive education and diversity. However, research shows that schools do not celebrate disabled children's voices in Nepal, especially in remote rural Nepal.
Most practical barriers that block inclusive education in rural Nepal stem from limited financial resources, poor understanding of disability, and low prioritisation of inclusive education. These obstacles include lack of information about the right to education to include persons with disabilities and inadequate knowledge about existing possibilities; inaccessible school facilities with poor reasonable accommodation; segregated and inferior quality of education; lack of adequately trained teachers; inflexible curriculum and evaluation systems; ineffective social support; high school fees; and stigma against children with disabilities and their families.
In conclusion, education empowers all people, especially those society has routinely cast aside, such as those with disabilities. Unfortunately, Nepal is violating various laws, such as Article 18 of the constitution - Right to equality.
Also, in Nepal, education policymakers do not understand the meaning of inclusive, integrated or special needs education.
Therefore, the government is failing to ensure an inclusive high-quality education system for children with disabilities, especially for girls with disabilities in rural Nepal. As a result, in rural Nepal, illiteracy remains high among women with disabilities.
Additionally, there is limited expertise and physical presence of persons with disabilities and their advocates at the policy level.
Furthermore, policymakers are not ready to address disability issues because most of them still embrace stereotypes, and changing such a mindset is challenging.
The ratification of the CRPD by Nepal in 2010 has not brought any significant practical change to ensure high quality inclusive education for children with disabilities, especially girls with disabilities in remote rural Nepal. Based on the UN and World Health Organisation estimates, Nepal has 60,000 to 180,000 children with disabilities, and accountability for their education is the government's responsibility - one it has not undertaken yet.
Joshi is executive director, Equip for Equality Nepal
A version of this article appears in the print on March 17, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.