“I spent 45 to 60 minutes crawling to school every day, 400 metres from my home,” says Michael, 14, from Central African Republic, who lives in a refugee camp in Cameroon. “At the end of the school year, my performance proved that my disability is not an inability. I was second in my class.”
This story is a striking example of why children with disabilities are 10 times less likely to attend school than children without. The factors that deny them their right to an education range from physical barriers, like those experienced by Michael, to poverty, limited family and community understanding of their learning needs, unsuitable schools and even social stigma.
With support from Irish Aid and Plan International, Michael was provided with a wheelchair to help him get to and from school. “I always arrived late,” says Michael. “When it rained, I had to crawl in dirty water and mud. Since I got my wheelchair, I get to school on time. Some of my schoolmates who used to laugh at me now play with me and offer to push me around on my wheelchair.”
Education for change
Plan International is committed to ensuring every child completes a quality, inclusive education that covers early learning, primary and secondary education. All children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of difference. Inclusive education acknowledges that every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs and that children with special education needs must have access to learning. We have implemented inclusive education programmes across 40 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
By taking into account the diversity among children, inclusive education actually combats discrimination, creates welcoming communities, and achieves education for all as well as improving the quality and effectiveness of education for children without disabilities.
Learning how to be inclusive
my performance proved that my disability is not an inability
This week in Nepal, Plan International is convening a global group of experts and organisations in a conference aiming to help drive improvements in the lives of children with disabilities. The central theme of the conference is inclusive education, which also encompasses access to lifelong learning opportunities such as vocational and technical training. Good practices will be shared by the diverse organisations attending and we will look for important ways to improve inclusion of children with disabilities in our education programming.
The event will also discuss the Global Goals and our organisation’s focus on and commitment to gender equality and girls’ rights. We can’t achieve the promise of the Global Goals to ‘leave no-one behind’ if we don’t act for the most excluded and marginalised children, which includes girls with disabilities.
“I felt embarrassed”
Rinja, 17, from East Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia was forced to drop out of school due to paralysis caused by an illness 3 years ago. “I wanted to give up, and did not want to return to school. But I felt embarrassed knowing that if I left school altogether, I would be perceived as the dumb and disabled girl,” says Rinja.
But she did return to school and now works with youth groups encouraging children with disabilities to continue studying. She is well aware of the challenges: “In the province, people’s awareness and understanding in the value of an education is low. Many families come from poor backgrounds, making it harder to afford and justify schooling.”
Rinja has come a long way. In October this year she was part of a group of girls, supported by Plan International, who took over the Ministry of Manpower in Jakarta for the International Day of the Girl.
Education is a fundamental right and should be available to all children but disproportionate numbers of girls and boys with disabilities are denied equal access to education. Plan International and its partners in the Nepal conference on inclusive education will always work so that children like Rinja and Michael get the education they deserve.