20 January 2009

Africa: Stronger Commitments Toward Inclusive Education Must Be Made

Richard Rieser developed polio when he was only nine months old, yet despite this debilitation was given no support at the mainstream school he went on to attend.

The school's expectation that he should fit in without any extra provisions being made included a requirement that he use the stairs - causing considerable pain - as the lift was off limits and reserved for teachers. In short, there were no adjustments for his needs as a disabled child.

His experiences prompted him after many years as a teacher to help disabled children have more positive educations through an inclusive approach in the mainstream schools they attend.

Today, Mr Rieser is one of around 650 million disabled people in the world, and of these 40 per cent are children, many of whom have no access to education.

"UNESCO has indicated that as few as 5 per cent of disabled children complete primary education. This is a direct contradiction to Millennium Development Goal 2, which states that all children should have successfully completed primary education by 2015," said Mr Rieser, now 60 and Director of Disability Equality in Education, an organisation that fights for children with disabilities to be included in mainstream schools.

Changing attitudes

"This is a fundamental human rights abuse that is taking place on a wide scale around the world. Inclusive education is there to challenge this by changing the attitudes of parents, teachers and other children," added Mr Rieser who is also a member of Equality 2025, a panel of disabled people who advise the UK government and has represented the UK Disabled People's Council at the United Nation's Ad-Hoc Committee, a body that worked on the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

This UN Convention came into force in May last year and to date 137 countries have adopted it and 46 have ratified-brought the Convention into law in their country. Article 24 of this convention "commits the world to develop inclusive education," explains Mr Rieser.

Inclusive education means children with disabilities attend the same schools as those without disabilities. Schools change their curriculum, teaching methods, assessment methods so that all children are able to achieve their potential.

He observes that disabled children who are "included" in mainstream schools instead of being "integrated", do significantly better on academic achievement than in the special schools. The reason for this is that most special schools "don't have high expectations of their pupils" and instead give them "life skills and educating them really not to achieve very much".

It is, however, not enough to place disabled children in mainstream schools without any support, argues Mr Rieser, who has taught in schools in East London for 25 years. He believes that inclusive education is critical as it helps children relate to those with disabilities. "If you never see children who are different to you, then, you don't know how to relate to them," he said. "The prejudices that have existed amongst adults for generations don't have to exist among children."

Mr Rieser is the author of 'Implementing Inclusive Education', a Commonwealth Secretariat handbook on how schools can include children with disabilities in their classrooms. The publication gives advice on how to achieve this on international, national, district and classroom levels.

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