Inclusive education: Leaving no one behind

More than 32 million children with disabilities worldwide are deprived of education, representing about one-third of the out-of-school

population. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Education systems in most developing countries, including Tanzania, have been sidelining people with disabilities. Experts recommend the adoption of an inclusive education policy

The 2030 Sustainable Development agenda and its 17 goals provides a powerful framework to guide local communities, countries, and the international community toward achieving disability-inclusive development.

The agenda pledges to leave no one behind, including persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups. It recognises disability as a cross-cutting issue to be considered in the implementation of all its goals.

Education systems in most developing countries, including Tanzania, have been sidelining people with disabilities. Experts have shared ways in which Tanzania can reap the most from an inclusive education policy.

Each year on December 3rd, the world marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to promote the rights and well being of persons with disabilities. But as the world commemorated the day this year, experts warned that there was still a daunting division for people with disabilities in getting their basic needs. The watchdogs called for a reaffirmation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) no. 4 which calls for “inclusive and quality education for all”.

A 2016 report by the Commission on Education, notes that persons with disabilities are among the population groups most likely to suffer from exclusion from education.

In this regard, it says more than 32 million children with disabilities worldwide are deprived of education, representing about one-third of the out-of-school population.

A 2020 Unesco report shows that during the Covid-19 outbreak, 90 percent of pupils and students in the world experienced a disruption to their education due to the pandemic. “The situation of children with disabilities has further worsened; distance learning is often inaccessible to them.”

Tanzania Education Network (TEN/MET) states that persons with disabilities in Tanzania, like in other countries, continue to face unmatched challenges in accessing education. The challenges include community prejudices that are tied to cultural beliefs, challenging journeys to and from school, and lack of accessible transport to a learning centre or facility.

Lack of enough trained teachers is another challenge, a curriculum that is not adaptive to their learning needs as well as infrastructures that do not embed designs that are assistive to all learners.

“As such, learners with disabilities often do not have the opportunity to learn even the basics, and a few are able to reach higher levels of education and training and compete in the world of work,” says Ochola Wayoga, TEN/MET’s national Coordinator.

The way forward

Mr Wayoga notes that multinational efforts and regional frameworks need to include a transformative education approach that contains an evaluation of policies, legislations, regulations, processes, structures, infrastructure, and practices that support the accommodation of all learners.

He says all students should learn together whenever possible, regardless of their backgrounds, inabilities, and abilities, without discrimination, through the minimisation of barriers and maximisation of resources.

“As education stakeholders and advocates of the marginalised, we want children to learn at school with other children as much as possible, and not in separate or special schools,” he says.

He notes further that teachers should be able to apply teaching methods that will always support children with disabilities.

“We seek the transformation of building designs that are accommodative of all learners with special attention to disability requirements. We call for teaching and learning materials to be adaptive, where visual and easy-to-read communication books using simple pictures or symbols, to support children with intellectual disabilities are used.”

Wayoga notes that people with disabilities should spearhead the dialogue about what matters to them most rather than being subjected to representation by others. TEN/MET wishes to see an inclusive education budget with special attention to disability components that can facilitate quality learning, Wayoga says.

Tanzania is among countries that have made progress in this agenda. The government has been promoting education access to all by putting in place a national strategy for inclusive education 2021/22 to 2025/26 and the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2010.

Also, government’s pledge through the Deputy Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister for Labour, Employment and People with Disabilities, Patrobas Katambi, to ensure the laws concerning persons with disabilities are implemented and safeguarded is another encouragement.

On the other hand, universities that provide special education programmes were recently directed to create a policy to guide the delivery of services to students and staff with disabilities.

The government through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has been making efforts to improve the provision of special education by providing enabling devices such as wheelchairs, and braille machines, though it is yet to meet all the needs. Government appeals to stakeholders, especially higher learning institutions to join in the move to ensure equal and quality education for all.

Removing the barriers

One of the issues that stood tall in this year’s commemoration of persons with disabilities day, is that the number of people with special needs continues to increase, thus stimulating the importance of having an enabling environment for the group to achieve their education goals.

One of the concerns discussed was that very few students with special needs progress to higher education levels. Basic education statistics of 2020, for instance, indicate that there were more than 55,000 students with disabilities from standards one to seven, yet only 10, 000 progressed to secondary school.

TEN/MET calls for investment in building the capacity of teachers for screening, identification, and assessment of children with disabilities. Deliberate efforts should be engineered to increase investment in strengthening Education Support Resource and Assessment Centres for early identification of different disabilities’ in children for early intervention in education, social, and health services as per individual needs.

Mr Wayoga says the availability of reliable data on the exact number of people with disabilities, types of disabilities, age, and gender at national, regional, and district levels is crucial.

“Government’s efforts to provide free education for all must be matched by the quality of education that supports the needs of learners with disabilities, else free education without supportive structures and facilities for people with disabilities is futile.” He adds, “We ask government to subsidise medical care, rehabilitation, and devices used by people with disabilities in order to increase accessibility of these services.”

Ayub Timba, a PhD student with impaired vision at the University of Dar es Salaam, says that not every teacher should teach students with disabilities, but rather, teachers with passion and love for the disabled.

“Most of the time when a teacher doesn’t bother to understand your weakness/disability, it becomes a huge burden and a demotivation to keep learning. We need teachers with specialties in this area,” he says.

In his education journey, Ayub faced many challenges, including the lack of necessary learning materials and the poor understanding of some teachers about people with disabilities.

“I can’t blame them because they have only studied a small aspect of educational psychology that is not directly related to how to serve students with different disabilities, including those that are not clearly visible. This has been a very big challenge,” he says.