Voice of America (Washington, DC)

15 May 2014

South Africa: Campaign to Open School Doors to Disabled Children

The senior education advisor for a confederation of European non-government organizations, Light for the World, maintains that millions of children with disabilities have a right to inclusive education in a regular school. Nafisa Baboo knows what she's talking about. She is visually impaired and she excelled in her school classes.

Global Education Week recently took place during which more than 100 campaigners, advocates and NGOs worldwide spoke up in favor of strengthening learning for all children including those with disabilities, as part of the Global Campaign for Education.

Mainstream education is a basic right

Speaking from Capetown, South Africa Baboo says inclusive education is basically a "rights" approach to educating children, where they are included in the mainstream education system.

"So what it means is that if you want to create an education system where all children are welcome, regardless of their gender, their race or their abilities," says Baboo, "we have to create that kind of inclusive education system," she says.

She highlights that barriers to inclusive education should be addressed, along with creating the right conditions that will allow all children to be able to develop both their academic and social capacity to their fullest.

She says this can be achieved by educating children without disabilities and those with disabilities in the same classroom together.

Baboo is a product of inclusive education. Her father, who is blind, attended a school for the blind and then went on to teach at the school as well.

"He really believed that the only way to include a child with a disability - and make sure that they have the capacity to negotiate the real world, and have those life skills - is if they are included in a regular school," says Baboo.

Both Baboo and her brother who has learning disabilities, attended their regular neighborhood school.

Struggling in separate schools

"... I didn't actually think of myself as someone with a disability," says Baboo. But when she started to apply to attend universities, her father said, "Oh. You should check you have a disability."

She replied, "I don't think I have a disability." I mean, it only became clear then because I just thought of the fact that I get a large print, and all of those other accommodations... "

While working with children with disabilities, Baboo said she watched many struggle to become a part of their communities. Many grew embarrassed about having to attend a special school, while their siblings and neighbors attend a regular school.

"If we want to create a society where everybody belongs, and feels that they are a part of it and are valued, then we need to move towards creating an inclusive education system," says Baboo.

Teachers need to look at each child individually, to find out what their interests are and what their strengths and weaknesses are, she says.

"If you see a child in that way, it's easier to problem-solve around what needs they have," says Baboo.

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