“They Realized that we are Indeed Capable of Studying:” The SDGs and Educating People with Disabilities

Sustainable Development Goal Number 4 Source: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/focussdgs.html

Sustainable Development Goal Number 4
Source: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/focussdgs.html

The theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, celebrated on Thursday, December 3rd, was “Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment for People of all Abilities.” This Day is aimed at creating awareness about disability issues aimed at developing an “inclusive and accessible society for all.” This year, the Day was also celebrated against the backdrop of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [discussed in an earlier post]. According to Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapothe Disability Advisor for the World Bank Group, one of the achievements of the SDGs is that they have at least 11 references to disability.

Of these references, at least two are found within the domain of education. Goal 4 of the SDGs calls for “inclusive and equitable quality education” and “lifelong learning opportunities for all.” This has been interpreted within Target 4.5 and 4.a as making all levels of education accessible for everyone, including the “vulnerable” groups, particularly persons with disabilities.

Partially blind boys play with sighted boys who have covered their eyes at a school in Maseru, Lesotho. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/dec/03/international-day-persons-disabilities-poor-people-disabilities-better-data-better-lives

Partially blind boys play with sighted boys who have covered their eyes at a school in Maseru, Lesotho.
Source: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/dec/03/international-day-persons-disabilities-poor-people-disabilities-better-data-better-lives

While the UN-led SDGs have presented goals and targets for the world to follow, the World Bank has been talking about how these are translated into real life. A feature story released by the World Bank provided examples of the ways in which a few countries are dealing with the education of people with disabilities. Citing the Background Paper for the Oslo Summit on Education for Development, the story claimed that “of the 58 million out-of-school children at the primary level, an estimated one-third have a disability.” This problem is being tackled through various inclusive education practices across countries such as Bulgaria, India, Togo, and Vietnam. Here I discuss two examples: India and West Africa.

India: Supporting the Visually Impaired

India has led a nationwide Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program in an attempt to include children with disabilities into elementary school systems. This World Bank-supported program has resulted in the inclusion of 2.5 million children with disabilities into primary and upper primary school programs. The video above depicts Bihar state’s Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) that is aimed at the education of girls with visual impairment. The model followed by this initiative aims at supplementing current education systems with programs that aid visually impaired girls, and has led to a number of success stories.

West Africa: Tackling the Stigma of Disability

West Africa, on the other hand, has been focusing on curtailing the stigma associated with physical disabilities, particularly the way in which society views children with disabilities as being “cursed, worthless and incapable of succeeding at school.” Programs, such as the one highlighted in the video, have been working to allow children with disabilities to work alongside their peers. In Senegal, in particular, this drive has been successful in shifting perceptions and it is hoped that the adoption of the SDGs will mobilise nations across West Africa to increase their efforts pertaining to the education of students with disabilities.

Moving Forward

With calls for increased data collection regarding disabilities, analysts are hopeful that the SDGs will herald a data revolution which will eventually lead to a scaling up of efforts related to disability education. While India and West Africa provide us with models of increasing access to education, however, what is missing is a serious debate regarding the quality of education in these programs.

Sources

Collacott, H., & Wainwright, T. (2015, December 3). Poor people living with disabilities are counting on better data for better lives. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/dec/03/international-day-persons-disabilities-poor-people-disabilities-better-data-better-lives

Ijjasz-Vasquez, Ede. (2015, December 3). Including persons with disabilities into development: the way forward [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/including-persons-disabilities-development-way-forward

Reuters. (2015, December 2). West Africa schools tackle stigma of disability. Times Live. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from http://www.timeslive.co.za/africa/2015/12/02/West-Africa-schools-tackle-stigma-of-disability

Thomson Reuters Foundation (2015, December 1). From curse to catfish – West Africa schools tackle stigma of disability [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6MRClQSDyk

World Bank (2015, December 2). A new beginning for visually impaired girls in India [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3rUEk-aUMI

World Bank (2015, December 3). Making quality education accessible to children with disabilities. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/12/03/making-quality-education-accessible-to-children-with-disabilities

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