What’s It? Integration or Inclusion

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Sarah is a champion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals previously known as Millennium Development Goals especially Goal 4 that insists on ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. She has been at the forefront calling for an inclusive education system in Kenya. She is a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School and The Office of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education whereby she organizes and mobilizes other young people to stand up for every child’s education, and calling upon the relevant stakeholders in the education system to put up structures that are accessible for children especially those living with disabilities.
Working with one of the most known organization on disability rights ‘Action Network for the Disabled’ in advocating for decent and quality education for children and persons with a disability, has created a clearer picture of the real meaning of inclusive education to many of the stakeholders and to herself as well. Many institutions will say that they are inclusive but in the real sense, they are integrated instead.
According to the WHO, around 15 percent of the world’s population, that is, an estimate of 1 billion people, live with disabilities, and according to the World Report on Disability, this group of people living with a disability, at least 1 in 10 are children and 80% of them live in developing countries. This is pretty alarming, right? A sad reality is that women report higher incidents of disability than men. Ninety percent of children living with a disability in developing countries do not attend school, says UNESCO. It is of really great concern since Kenya falls under this category of the developing countries.
With the above statistics, it is then clear that people with disabilities are placed in a very tough place to even become independent. Basically, they cannot provide for themselves since education has been denied to them. No education equates to no employment. With our Kenyan Constitution, UN Convention on the Rights of a Child and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guaranteeing every child a right to education, it is heartily puzzling that not every child is in school.
Children living with a disability are highly disadvantaged firstly because most parents and guardians lock them up in their houses. Why? They are a disgrace, a shame and therefore not a swag to walk along with them. Due to the stigma that comes along with having a child living with a disability, parents, and guardians opt to leave them at home, others are even not given enough food, we cannot even mention of balanced diet since the food itself is not available. If born with a disability in a poverty-stricken family, it is simply owning more than one disability. How society perceives disability has led to heightened cases of stigma, discrimination, and thus increased cases of uneducated persons with a disability.
So how can we solve this mess? How can we achieve this SDG 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all?
Having visited a majority of schools in Kenya especially Nairobi, I can say that we have a long way to go in establishing an inclusive education system. Many schools will say that they have pupils living with a disability in their classes, schools, etc, but my question is, how accessible are those classes, toilets, playgrounds, libraries. Are ALL teachers educated on handling children living with a disability? Do we have enough materials for hearing and visual impaired in all the schools? For example, Braille machines. Are there ramps, handrails in all these schools? If the answer to any of these questions is NO, then there is nothing like inclusive education. If you accommodate a child with a disability in a mainstreamed school, that is just integration. For inclusive education, we need the following, which if keenly handled by the Ministry of Education, Educational Institutions, Schools and Pupils themselves, we will applaud ourselves for such huge achievement of the UN SDG 4.
Kenya is one of the fastest growing economies in the East African region and tackling this goal will not be hard if truly it can sink into our minds that, Inclusive education is the prerequisite to development. Basically what we are lacking is an exact relevant data concerning all children and persons with disabilities. There are also no effective policies to address education needs of every child and person with a disability in accessing not just education but equitable quality education. And it is of concern to note that, even when educational policies are in place, still enough financing is lacking to build accessible buildings, to purchase accessible facilities, to train all teachers in inclusive education, and to scale up successful local pilot programs to the national level.
It is therefore of great significance our government and other relevant stakeholders to do the following in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4:It is essential that the education systems which need changes and new, innovative approaches to fit the specific needs of children with disabilities are adjusted. The government must put in effectiveness the policies to ensure that all children living with disability attend school, learn, and complete their schooling. We need to see a designed data collection instruments and programs that take stock of the number of disabled children and persons and elaborate relevant educational programs to include them into schools. There need to be a collection of better quality data on children with disabilities, especially disaggregated data that explain the different disabilities and impairments as well as the level of severity. This is imperative for effective planning and design of inclusion policies, programs and interventions.
I strongly believe with these recommendations, in the next five years we will be talking of a different positive story.