Dear sisters, I want to share something, very close to my heart. Today I was invited to speak about disability inclusive education at the Danish Parliament, at a debate on fighting exclusion arranged by IBIS and hosted by a Danish MP. I felt blessed to be surrounded by accomplished, strong women all dedicating their lives to fighting for this cause. I want to share my speech. I want to share my hope that future all young girls (and boys) will have the chance to get an education - even if they have a disability. Lots of love Sif
Disability inclusive education and working with local organisations
I know a woman, Florence, she lives in Uganda and she is brilliant. She has studied law and she can nail any man, or woman, with her sharp wit. Her sense of humor makes me chuckle, even though it is many years since I last talked to her. And she is completely blind.
It is just over 10 years since I met her, on a visit to form an umbrella organization for youth with disabilities in Uganda. It was unusual that a woman, especially a woman with a severe disability, was so well-educated. But we were young and full of hope and were sure, that we were well on the way to a future where all the young girls, with or without disabilities, could become like her. Not all lawyers, but girls, and boys, achieving their dreams and doing what they love, in spite of being born with or having developed a disability.
And yet, 10 years later, in a report from December 2017 from Global Partnership for Education and The World Bank, it becomes clear that the education gap between people with and without disabilities is just increasing. In general, more young girls and boys are getting an education, but those with disabilities are falling behind. The gap is increasing when it comes literacy, to school enrolment, completing primary school and completing secondary level. Children with disabilities are left behind by global efforts to improve education for all.
We need to do better. We need to provide access to schools for children with disabilities, we need to increase the understanding of their needs, we need trained teachers, adequate facilities, classroom support and learning resources.
We are encouraged to do better by the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) and by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the CRPD). The SDGs call for inclusive and equitable education, with the aim of ensuring equal access to all levels of education for the vulnerable, including children with disabilities. And they call for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and also provide safe, inclusive and effective learning environments. The CRPD states that persons with disabilities have the same right to education as all others.
In order to live up to the CRPD-convention and the SDGs. In order to fulfill dreams and give hope, we need to acknowledge that: - Inclusive education is important for the participation and development of the individual child, both in and outside school - For some children assistive devices can determine the difference between being included or excluded - The general programs and policies of international organisations, national governments, and local authorities should be inclusive and welcome all children both in schools and in informal education.
These are our guiding principles, in the Disabled Peoples Organisations Denmark (DPOD). We work to achieve this. We work to achieve this in Denmark, on the European Level, on the UN level and most importantly we work with our sister organisations around the world.
And I would like to share how the National Union of Disability Organisations in Rwanda (NUDOR) work to achieve inclusive education with the support from DPOD.
In the beginning NUDOR focused on duty-bearers and service-providers in order to promote inclusive education, but it soon became evident that this was insufficient. So NUDOR began expanding the focus. Mobilizing support from the local community in order to change the attitude towards the schooling of children with disabilities. In 2016 NUDOR conducted 24 awareness campaigns on children’s right to education, targeting district authorities, local leaders, school leaders, persons with disabilities, parents of children and youth with disabilities and the local community at large. NUDOR worked on increasing data collection and measures, on establishing collaboration with school leaders and parents, training health workers in service delivery to persons with disabilities, targeting religious leaders and training them on disability rights and inclusion.
The awareness raising campaigns have paid off. The number of children enrolled in the 15 schools targeted in the project has increased by almost 50% from 377 in 2015 to 563 in 2016.
In a more comprehensive project, supported by the Danish Guide and Scout Aid (and NUDOR and DPOD), 5 schools were selected as models, were the awareness raising were combined with a more targeted approach to barriers. Targeting physical barriers such as ramps instead of stairs, access to toilets, light within classrooms and accessibility to playgrounds. Building capacity of teachers through the aid of special need teachers displaying best practices, helping to provide practical tips, identify gaps and promote mutual learning. Painting sign language numbers and letters on the classroom walls, to encourage the learning of sign language. And those most in need assisted with special school materials, assistive devices and medicine. After a year the enrollment more than doubled from 121 children in 2016 to 301 in 2017.
And on the national level NUDOR influenced the Ministry of Education to task the local authorities to monitor enrollment and dropout rate of children including data on children of disabilities. Ensuring more focus throughout Rwanda and paving the way for future work.
This is only an example. This is only the beginning. We need to do much more and we need a development, were focusing on inclusive education, were focusing on the hope and dreams of those most vulnerable is the focus of all and not only for the few with special interest. We need to do more, and we can do more. Each and every one of us can help ensure that no one is left behind. Each and every one can make a difference for a child in need.