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Education and disabilities: Global Action Week 2014

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Sophia Kousiakis (05.05.2014)

Children with disabilities are more likely to be out of school than any other group of children. May 4-10 is the Global Action Week for education and disability.

A failure to address inequalities, stigmatization and discrimination linked to wealth, gender, ethnicity, language, location and disability is holding back progress towards Education for All (GMR, 2014). Ensuring that no person is denied access to good quality education because of these factors should be at the heart of the new goals for post-2015.

Inclusive education recognizes that every child has the right to a quality education. According to the INEE Guidelines on Learners with Disabilities, inclusive education acknowledges that all children can learn and respects that despite differences, educational structures, systems and methodologies need to meet the needs of all learners. Providing tailored responses to these learners’ needs remains a challenge, particularly in conflict-affected situations.

An estimated 93 million children under the age of 14 are living with a ‘moderate or severe disability’ with four in five children with disabilities living in developing countries (GMR, 2014). These children are more likely to be out of school than any other group of children. “Integrating children with disabilities into the standard education system can break down the segregation that reinforces stereotypes” (GMR,2014). Importantly for NRC, children and youth with disabilities should not be forgotten during conflict as all too often their needs are overlooked, increasing their protections risks. According to the Women Refugee Commission’s report Disability Inclusion; an estimated 6.7 million people with disabilities are forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations. These include violence, abuse and exploitation and worryingly there is growing evidence that rates of violence may be greater among persons with disabilities than their non-disabled peers. This has significant implications for their physical protection in situations of displacement (WRC, 2014).

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement working with national, regional and international organisations, teachers’ unions and child rights campaigners to hold governments accountable for promises to ensure quality education for all. The GCE highlights that all children and young people have a right to be present and participate in education, regardless of their abilities, backgrounds or where they live. GCE’s Global Action Week (4-10 May) is a major focal point for the education movement and this year’s theme Equal Right, Equal Opportunity: Education and Disability highlights the need for inclusive education for children and youth with disabilities.

The Educate a Child (EAC) funded NRC Bridging Class project in Cote d’Ivoire is a programme exploring viable solutions for making sure that children with disabilities are included in the school environment. In today’s Cote d’Ivoire, millions of children and youth are displaced, many of them living with disabilities. According to UNICEF the decade of socio-political turmoil ending with widespread armed violence in 2011 and a return to peace, has not yet allowed for viable solutions for millions of children who remain affected in the country today.

Crepin Guy Bonebo (12) was born with a physical disability. Due to his disability, Crepin’s father did not realize nor believe that his son could attend school. Through several discussions with Crepin’s father, DIEHI Guy Charles, there has been a positive change in how the family perceives his disability and as a result Crepin has enrolled in the NRC Bridging Class project.

Awareness raised by NRC in my locality on the right to education for all children and the possibility to attend bridging class before entering the formal school system have convinced me to get my son into school despite his disability.

Crepin’s life has changed dramatically since attending the programme and his self-esteem and motivation has increased:

"I am very happy to attend school. I have many friends. They help me to effortlessly move my wheelchair. The lady teacher and my father do a lot to encourage me and my health problems are no longer an obstacle."

Furthermore, at the end of the 2013 academic year Crepin successfully entered the formal school system.

"At the first exam, I obtained an average of 5.14 and ranked 24th out of 35 students in the bridging class. When I am grown up, I would like to be a journalist to tell what happens in the world," Crepin says.

Every effort should be made to protect the rights of all children and youth in emergencies. Through Global Action Week there is an important opportunity to highlight that inclusive humanitarian action is a priority and access to quality education for learners with disabilities requires viable solutions and opportunities. These inclusive educational opportunities “…are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all” (UNESCO Salamanco Statement, 1994).