Inclusive education scores badly

Stigma and discrimination against children with disabilities hamper efforts to give them equal access to education.

08 August 2017 | Education

High levels of stigma and discrimination as well as false myths surrounding people and children living with disabilities continue to thwart efforts to improve inclusive education for all.

The results of a rapid analysis conducted by the education ministry and Unicef recently paints a bleak picture about the myriad of challenges many children living with disabilities in Namibia face, which often result in limited access to education, if at all.

In a powerful poem delivered by a learner from the School for the Visually Impaired at last week's State of Education address, the student underlined that a disability is not an inability, and told the crowd: “Open the classroom, let me in, it is time to begin.”

Underlining the vast barriers to education faced by too many children with disabilities, education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa called on parents, the community and the country as a whole to support interventions aimed at demystifying disabilities and so help ensure equal rights for all.

The minister pointed out that that despite a number of national protocols, laws and policies aimed at ensuring inclusive education and the wellbeing of affected learners, “children with disabilities and special education needs continue to face numerous challenges.”

National disability statistics from 2011 found that at close to 50 000 more persons with disabilities had left school than remained.

More than 27 000 never attended school.

The proportion of persons with disabilities aged 5 years and above that never attended school was at 83% in rural areas compared to 17.9% in urban areas.

A mere 877 children with disabilities had attended pre-primary school, Hanse-Himarwa said.

Research also found that around 87% of children with disabilities aged 0 to 4 have never attended early childhood development (ECD) programmes.

ECD and pre-primary education are critical tools in helping children achieve long-term successes, as the programme contributes to reducing high failure rates, school dropout rates, reduces interpersonal violence and learner pregnancies in later life.

The Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) report on disability issued last year highlighted a worrying trend.

“The number of children with disabilities aged 0-4 that are not attending ECD programmes has increased from 3 359 (2001) to 5 135 (2011). This situation is worrisome and calls for policy interventions to address the issue of children with disabilities that are not attending ECD in Namibia.”

The NSA noted that with regard to the number of children with disabilities aged 3-5 years, 2 595 were not attending ECD programmes in Namibia by 2011.

Enrolment in school had improved with the proportion of persons aged 5 years and above that never attended school decreasing from 30.4% (2001) to 28.9% (2011).

The report also found that the proportion of persons with disabilities who have no formal education was higher in rural areas (82.3%) than in urban areas (17.7%).

The NSA report found that “the highest proportion of disabled persons with no formal education were blind and visually impaired. The highest proportion of females that were disabled were visually impaired, while for males physical impairment of lower limbs was the common disability.”

Among the issues the ministry's rapid assessment identified as one of the worst challenges for disabled youth, is the existence of high levels of stigma and discrimination against children with disabilities.

In many parts of Namibia, disability is still viewed as a curse and children with disabilities are still hidden from society in most cases.

The study also underlined that a lack of disability knowledge and practical skills among teachers, school principals and hostel staff was a major problem.

This lack of skills training and awareness led to learners feeling frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed and “wanting to give up and of feeling unsupported,” the study found.

Another longstanding issue that affects all people with disabilities in Namibia is the lack of disability friendly infrastructure, in this case in and around schools, classrooms and in hostels.

Moreover, despite being illegal, the issue of corporal punishment and bullying of children continues to undermine the country's push, if not always at maximum, to create optimal education environments for students with disabilities.

Another challenge is an overall lack of understanding of different disabilities “especially those relating to invisible disabilities such as learning and psychosocial disabilities,” Hanse-Himarwa said.

The ministry has developed a number of strategies to address the lack of capacity among teachers and principals, the minister said.

Through the Integrated School Health Programme, the ministry will also partner with the health ministry to address early identifications, assessments and interventions of disabilities among children and learners.

Advocacy interventions will also be conducted, she said.





JANA-MARI SMITH

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