Regardless of whether or not you are a development aficionado or a relative laymen to the global development context, you would have heard of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs which were set for achievement by 2015. The Goals consisted of a set of targets in an attempt to end global poverty. One of the targets that was the most synonymous with the possibly for change was the MDG#2: Achieve Universal Primary Education. At the time, it seemed like the only precursor for achievement of this target was around boosting education institutions and quality training of teachers in developing countries. However, the results which were seen at the end of the 2015 deadline suggested that the necessary levels of inclusion within primary education, especially in relation to girls and children with disabilities had not been considered or factored into the process; as a direct consequence of this, the goal had all but failed.
As I travel around the globe I continue to see the same patterns when it comes to children with disabilities and their attempt to access basic education. In most cases, children are either so badly stigmatised and discriminated against in their context that they are societally unable to access education or there are no flexible learning options available for them to access. When we think about access to education it’s difficult to see beyond the parameters of merely the physical aspect of accessibility; which in itself is a difficulty. I have consistently heard stories in India on my travels of children with physical or mobility disabilities being unable to attend school because the classrooms are inaccessible to their wheelchairs or mobility aides. Of course, this is easily fixable, the installation of ramps and handrails can be inexpensive and easy to install. However, these aren’t the only barriers of access to education which children with disabilities have to face each and every day of their lives.
Consider if you will, a child with a visual impairment. How would this child access his/her school? How would he/she get to school? When he/she enters his/her classroom, how would he/she know where to sit? When his/her teacher starts conducting classes and using the blackboard for the daily lesson, how would he/she know what was being taught? When his/her teacher referred the class to the relevant lesson and activity within the associated textbook how would they learn without being able to see this learning module? Beyond just the classroom other barriers also exist, such as: what would happen when this child needed to use the restroom? Will there be accessible toilets around? How would this child find their way to these toilets when the only form of signage is visual? How would this child be protected against abuse when accessing such community toilets which are 500m’s away, due to the school not having toilets of their own?
The above are all questions associated with the daily experience of children living with disabilities and attempting to exercise their basic human right of access to primary education. In most cases, the parents of these children give up and choose to keep their children at home due to the difficulties associated with access and learning. We’re now talking about an entire generation of children who are able to learn and contribute to society through turning their education into income generation vocations, being crowded out of the process completely. These issues while rampant in developing nations are not just experienced solely in these areas; if you were to investigate a little further, one would find they are just as common in ‘developed’ nations such as our own. The truth about the theory of inclusion is that, we’re not fairing so great on the pursuit or practice of it. The MDG’s complete black out when factoring in children with disabilities in their universal education goal is proof of this. Unfortunately, on most occasions, and apparently even on the global stage, these children remain invisible to the goal of ending poverty. Until we begin to understand that including those who are marginalised and at the very peripheries of society are key to changing the world for the better, no lasting change will ever be achieved. So next time you consider who is accessing opportunities and how to invest in making this endeavour better, look beyond the obvious and think about those who are unable to even reach the point of access in the first place.
*Image courtesy of CBM India