Today the world is committed to promoting inclusive education as a key strategy for the development of ‘Education for All’ (EFA).
The ‘Salamanca Statement’ and its ‘Framework for Action’ endorsed by 92 governments and 25 international organisations at the ‘World Conference on Special Needs Education’, June 1994 in Salamanca, Spain, proclaims that every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities, and learning needs — and that “those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools which should accommodate them with a child centred pedagogy capable of meeting those needs.”
Additionally, educational systems that take into account the wide diversity of children’s characteristics and needs “are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all,” the statement reads.
Speaking to Education, Mary Kobusingye, a special needs education specialist at the Ministry of Education, says that it is alongside this background that Rwanda committed to promoting education of children with disabilities and other special educational needs in the mainstream (regular schools).
However, she says, despite some efforts made, some constraints are still noted. “There is still a small number of disabled students currently enrolled in mainstream schools.”
For instance, Kobusingye points out that the ‘Rwandan Population Housing Census’ (2012) found more than 60 per cent of children who identified as having a disability attended school, adding, “The survey also found that about 30 per cent of children with disabilities have never attended school, with slightly more of them living in rural areas.”
Kobusingye explains that inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of school life.
“Inclusive education is about how we develop and design our schools, classrooms, programmes and activities, so that all students learn and participate together. It is also about ensuring access to quality education for all students by effectively meeting their diverse needs in a way that is responsive, accepting, respectful and supportive. In this system, students participate in the education programme in a common learning environment with support to diminish and remove barriers and obstacles that may lead to exclusion,” Kobusingye says.
Speaking to this paper, Charles Murigande, an academician, says that the revolution in the education sector comes as a result of political will.
“I believe the most important aspect today is that the government believes in education for all students,” he says. “Before the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, only a few selected people were able to access education, so I can say that it was a privilege, not a right for all Rwandans.”
What is the status of special needs education in the country?
Kobusingye says that there are currently 50 inclusive schools in the country. But, she says that inclusive education does not mean having a diversity of learners in the school, different things must be taken into consideration, such as “accessibility of the school, (toilets, labs, libraries, playgrounds, classes among others).
“When we talk of children with special educational needs, it doesn’t mean that every child with a disability needs extra support, we mean those whose disability condition sabotages learning in the so called normal setting compared to their peers,” Kobusingye explains, “The final choice of placement of a child is decided by the parents.”
Although there are no official statistics of children enrolled in CFS, “I could mention that children in inclusive schools do not have severe disabilities or educational needs, those with severe disabilities are in special schools, centres or even some in their homes.
“Most schools due to different trainings and campaigns no longer send away children with disabilities, and if they are unable to support, they normally seek advice from other members who have information,” Kobusingye says.
According to Cherish Nkurunziza, a special needs education teacher, inclusive education has provided better learning opportunities.
She says, “When children learn together with varying abilities, they are often motivated. This leads to higher individual expectations.
Kobusingye is optimistic that the development has affected both the sector and the students positively.
“The learners are responding positively. We usually see this through increasing numbers of special needs students in regular schools, if appropriate support is given to learners to make them active members of the school community, and if learners are advancing from one level to another,” Kobusingye says.
There are some challenges still facing special needs education, hence hindering education for all, for example, small budgets and insufficient teacher training.
“Some children still have long distances to school, especially those using wheelchairs,” Kobusingye asserts.
Additionally, she says, there is insufficient involvement of education professionals in inclusive education.Follow https://twitter.com/EdwinAshimwe