Planning for disability-inclusive education: Training course expands to new regions

19 October 2020

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IIEP-UNESCO

A school where all children are welcomed, and have a feeling of belonging. Students of different backgrounds and abilities are all able to learn and participate together in the same classroom, in the same school. This is inclusive education. 

Disability is one of the greatest barriers to education worldwide. Nearly 50 per cent of children with disabilities are not in school, compared to only 13 per cent of their peers without disabilities, according to UNICEF. 

Inclusive education pays careful attention to the design and development of schools and programmes so that the learning experience caters to the individual needs of all students. This entails looking at data, infrastructure and learning materials, as well as policies, attitudes, financing, and leadership and management. All of these areas connect to the educational planning cycle. That is why IIEP-UNESCO and UNICEF have teamed up to offer an online course for educational planners and policy-makers, to master the foundations for planning with a lens for inclusivity. 

Inclusive education starts with inclusive planning 

In early 2020, 13 teams from eight countries in Africa participated in the course. Now, a new cohort from Southeast Asia have just begun the course with teams from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. During nine weeks, from 28 September to 27 November 2020, the participants will learn about key concepts and benefits of inclusion and strategies to include children with disabilities into education sector analysis and planning. 

Watch a short video with Srei, a young girl who faced exclusion in the classroom because she could not fully see nor hear. 

 

Spotlight on India 

IIEP-UNESCO spoke with one participant about what steps are being taken in India towards more inclusive education systems. 

Dr. Bharti Kaushik is an Associate Professor in the Department of Education of Groups with Special Needs (DEGSN) at the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). She recently prepared guidelines for making pre-service teacher education inclusive and developed a handbook for teachers on how to include children with autism in the classroom. Now, she is focusing on how to make science classrooms and laboratories inclusive for students with visual impairments. 

Could you tell us a bit about your work: How are you working to make science labs more inclusive? 

The first and foremost issue is to generate awareness among the teachers engaged in delivering science curriculum. Our initial survey looked at the perspectives of science teachers working in government schools, private schools and special schools regarding participation of children with visual impairments in experiments performed by students in science laboratories. Next, we prepared a module that attempts to sensitize science teachers around the participation of children with visual impairments in laboratory activities. We are also encouraging teachers to have faith in the abilities of students in handling the equipment – such as that made of glass – in labs, and spreading awareness about safety measures. 

Let’s turn to what’s happening country-wide. Is inclusive education high on the agenda in India? 

From an Indian perspective, as elsewhere, inclusivity is very important and disability is just one of the many dimensions of diversity in my country. The recently launched National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 recognizes five groups under the main theme of Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups. These include gender identities, sociocultural identities, geographical identities, socioeconomic conditions, as well as disabilities. Efforts towards better inclusion is important: it would strengthen faith and acceptance of diverse abilities, viewpoints, and differences and thereby lead towards the inculcation of values like tolerance. 

What remains to be done to achieve the full realization of inclusive education in India? 

Educational planning needs to consider a cluster of schools as the smallest unit. A school cluster may have ten schools, a number that can vary depending on the place and population. Children with different disabilities (there are 21 disabilities recognized by the 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act) may not all be enrolled in any one school so planning at the cluster level may have long-term benefits in reducing costs and improving service delivery and efficient data collection. Further, it needs to be done in a collaborative manner and needs support from inter-and intra-ministerial agencies that look after different areas such as health, welfare, gender, early childhood, and so on.  We need to address the barriers, such as a lack of trained human resources and issues related to stereotyped-thinking and attitudes, as well as traditional beliefs associated with the different abilities of children and youth.  

Have you seen particular signs of progress?

Yes, we are seeing a rise in the level of awareness and degree of sensitivity among education actors. There is a desire to take action towards inclusion of children with disabilities, as well as concerted action towards preparing teaching and learning material based on Universal Design for Learning.   

What are the top prerequisites for ensuring that an education system has the capacity to address the learning needs of all children and youth? 

Capacity development of all actors in the education system is paramount. We also need to ensure: 

  • Collaboration among the various stakeholders, 
  • Optimum utilization of available resources,
  • Synergies among those working on the ground to foster inclusive education,
  • Robust internal checks and balance mechanisms for ensuring quality. 

 

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