The call to action at the end of a major conference on education for children with disabilities in Swaziland was pretty clear - governments in southern Africa have to stop talking and start working to ensure that every child in the region has access to quality education.
Organised by the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities in collaboration with the Swazi government and OSISA, the conference highlighted the difficulties that children with disabilities continue to experience across southern Africa - from discrimination to disempowerment to child abuse to exclusion from education at all levels.
Attended by representatives from governments, disabled peoples organisations, UN agencies, civil society organisations and educational institutions as well as children with disabilities and their parents, the conference communique expressed deep concern about the lack of an inclusive education framework and trained teachers as well as the complicated mix of legislation and policies relating to education of children with disabilities across the SADC region, which poses a significant barrier to their ability to effectively access education.
And the participants all agreed that an urgent call to action was needed to make governments in the region address the educational needs of children with disabilities.
In a powerful statement, the participants called for governments to allocate a sufficient proportion of their countries' Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to education and specifically to the development and implementation of child-centred inclusive education policies.
The communique also called for early childhood, development and education programmes to be inclusive so that all children with disabilities can participate meaningfully and achieve progress towards their maximum potential - as well as for all teacher training courses to feature a compulsory module on inclusive education, which will be backed up by regular in-service training.
The Ezulwini Call to Action also called for:
- Countries to ratify and domesticate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
- SADC Ministers of Education and the UN to establish a network that will increase the sharing of knowledge and the promotion of good practises on inclusive education across the region;
- Governments to guarantee that school curriculum, infrastructure, grade progression and assessment are inclusive and make adjustment for children with different impairments or needs; and,
- Campaigns to sensitise parliamentarians and traditional leaders about the importance of implementing inclusive education.
The conference did not try to hide the lack of progress since the African Union declared 1999-2009 as the African Decade for Persons with Disabilities. Instead, the participants urged governments and others to take action now so that - by the end of the second African Decade for Persons with Disabilities in 2019 - there would be concrete and sustainable achievements to point to.
And the overall message was clear - there is an enormous amount of work to do but with sufficient political will real progress can be made. If the recommendations are adopted by governments across southern Africa then inclusive education can become a reality - and all children with disabilities can be given the chance to enjoy their right to an education.
Ezulwini call to action on inclusive education in SADC