“Persons with Disabilities” refers to any person who is physically, psychologically, and/or mentally not functioning properly due to social/environmental barriers. Any person who cannot take part actively in the society is considered to be disabled.
There are no constitutional and legal provisions for persons with disabilities in most countries, and in many countries children with disabilities are excluded from school. This is particularly the case if a girl child has a disability. In some cultures, children with disabilities are seen as a curse, and as such are hidden away from the wider community. In others, it is more a matter of priorities. Perhaps the costs associated with education mean that a child without a disability is prioritised, as educating a disabled child is seen as a wasted investment. Or the school may not have the facilities or teaching staff to include children with disabilities.
Long ignored, shunned, and isolated, disabled children in Bangladesh are the victims of inequity and stigma. Children with disabilities have been among the most educationally marginalized children. Themajor obstacles in deprivation ofthe disabled children from their educational right are stigma, poverty and lack of educational facilities.
Qualityeducation is a critical component of child development anda means of self-empowerment, independence and social integration.Therefore, this Article has presented a general overview on the right to education of the disabled children under the international human rights instruments, the education right protected under the national laws and policies of Bangladesh and the efforts/acts taken by the Government to educate the disabled children, and suggestions towards the advancement of the disabled children’s education in Bangladesh.
THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION:
The right to education has been universally recognized since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26) in 1948. It states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
It falls under the category of economic, social and cultural right (entitlement to receive an education) as well as civil and political right (free choice of education). It aims at an adequate standard of living, wellbeing, self-development and protection of human dignity.
Education empowers people toward personal development, to contribute to society as an independent and emancipated citizen, to have control over one’s personal life, to control the government and to move up the social ladder. It also allows the enjoyment of other human rights like right to work, health, food, political participation, equal opportunity and full participation in society.
For education to be a meaningful right, it must be available, accessible (non-discrimination access to education), acceptable and adaptable. The concept of these 4As was developed by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Katarina Tomasevski. It is one of the core obligations of a State to ensure access to education on a non-discriminatory basis. The State has an obligation to protect the most vulnerable groups in the society and to provide special educational facilities for persons with educational backlog. However, it is in the treatment of minorities and vulnerable sections of society that we see the real test of a government’s duty to protect, respect and fulfill the rights of its citizens and those under its jurisdiction.
Katarina Tomasevski, in a study of government reports to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, listed no less than 32 categories of children that are particularly likely to be excluded from education. Among them are abandoned children; asylum seeking children; beggars; child labourers; disabled children; child mothers; child prostitutes; street children etc.
DISABLED CHILDREN AND THEIR RIGHT TO EDUCATION UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAWS:
Article 13 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, states that everyone has the right to education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child ‘CRC’ (the most widely ratified multinational treaty) safeguards the rights of all children. Articles 28 and 29 of CRC addresses the issue relating to the right to education. CRC places obligations on the part of States to ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child. This covers the whole well being of the child; ie. physical, mental, spiritual, moral, psychological and social (CRC General Comments 5, para 12). Thus, States are obliged to provide education for all children without distinction/ discrimination of any kind.
Article 23 of CRC also states that States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community. Moreover, recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education.
The Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) affords all persons with disabilities the right to education. Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.Article 24 of the CRPD, in affording the right to education for persons with disabilities, emphasises the principles of non-discrimination and requires state parties to realise the right on the basis of equal opportunity.
The World Declaration on Education for All states that “The learning needs of the disabled demand special attention. Steps need to be taken to provide equal access to education to every category of disabled persons as an integral part of the education system.”
The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education was a significant milestone in the education for children with disabilities worldwide. It is a powerful instrument that proclaims inclusive education as the leading principle in serving children with disabilities through special needs education. It states that those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools that should accommodate them within a child-centered pedagogy capable of meeting these needs. Inclusive education is regarded as the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes. The guiding principle is that schools should accommodate all children, regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or/and other conditions.
EDUCATION RIGHT OF THE DISABLED CHILDREN IN THE CONTEXT OF BANGLADESH:
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries of the world. It is a country of higher infant mortality as well. Moreover, those who survive a fraction of them become mentally or physically handicapped. These are caused mainly by utter poverty, unhygienic delivery system, trauma due to natural disaster, lack of vitamin A and iron etc.
In Bangladesh, a great number of disabled persons are children. Their number is relatively higher in the rural areas, where they are deprived of many health facilities which are available in the cities. It is the same with education. Due to the city centered policy of the government, the disabled persons of the rural areas remain ever deprived of their right to education.
Children with disabilities have clearly been among the most marginalized when it comes to education. It was reported in 2002 that out of an estimated 1.6 million children with disabilities in the primary school age group, only 4 per cent had access to education in areas with no disability services,and the majority were children with mild to moderate physical impairments.
Growing up with a disability in Bangladesh means that a child experiences exclusion; exclusion from institutions, from the environment, and by people’s attitudes. Bangladesh’s economic situation, especially its high incidence of poverty, makes a parent unable to provide an environment that supports a child’s growth and development. Parents in poverty are not in a position to buy assistive devices and to proactively seek out and find appropriate education for their child, who is disabled. Parental literacy, which is lacking in poverty, is strongly associated with education achievement. The tendency to ridicule someone who is atypical, for example, illustrates how children with disabilities are often considered as strange (different) and become subject to bullying and harassment.
School environments are not supportive of special needs education. They do not include adequate hygiene (toilets) for children with disabilities, appropriate furniture, assistive devices (e.g., Braille and hearing aids), and appropriate educational material. Access to school and retention in school are negatively influenced by the fact that school management committees, community leaders, and village leaders (Imams) do not accept children with disabilities, with few exceptions.
Although Bangladesh is a signatory to the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education and endorsed the Education for All and other international conventions such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the vast majority of children with disabilities and special learning needs in Bangladesh still do not haveaccess to education.
NATIONAL LAWS ON THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION OF THE DISABLED CHILDREN:
In the national Constitution of Bangladesh, there is no mention of the rights of the disabled in any of its articles or sections. In the 15th and 16th sections of the Constitution, it is mentioned that it is the obligation of the stateto ensure the right of the citizens to education. Bangladesh Constitution makes the equal right and opportunity for each and every citizen a basic rule, yet there is no equal opportunity for the disabled persons in the education domain.
In 1995, the first National Policy for the Disabled was approved by the Government, which “mainstreamed disability in to the country’s development agenda.” An Action Plan to operationalize this policy was approved in 1996. In 2000, the State established the National Foundation for the Development of Disabled Persons.
There was no specific act after the Lunacy Act and Eye Donation Act to secure the right of the disabled persons. Long after that only in 2001 the Disabled Person’s Welfare Act was enacted. This act has proven effective in upholding the disabled children’s right and opportunities. It encouraged various quarters to set up special education system for the disabled children. Special education systems were introduced according to their disability types. In addition to that, free education was ensured for those under 18. They were also provided with their necessary special study materials. Special efforts were given to facilitate their education with the normal children. They were encouraged by scholarships and stipends from the government fund. Initiatives were taken to eliminate the commoner’s misunderstandings towards them in order to incorporate them in the mainstream society (Ministry of Social welfare, 1995).
However, Disability Welfare Act failed to protect people with disabilities from violence, abuse and discrimination, as well as not helping them from establishing their rights and freedoms.Thus, the Disabled Welfare Act 2001 was revoked with the support of the Charter of the United Nations when Bangladesh activated its new law on disability in 2013.The Parliament members and the President of Bangladesh passed the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013 on 9 October 2013. This Act is in line with the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The new Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013 deals with disability issues from a human rights perspective and covers persons with disabilities based on their impairments. These have been classified in 11 categories: autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, deaf blindness, Down syndrome, hearing impairment, intellectual impairment, physical impairment, psycho-social disability, speech impairment, visual impairment and multiple disabilities.
The law also mandates the issuing of national identity cards, enrolment in regular schools, reservation of seats on all forms of public transportation, accessibility provisions in all public places (including retrofitting), equal opportunities in employment, and protection of inherited property rights.
BANGLADESH GOVERNMENT’S INITIATIVE ON EDUCATING THE DISABLED CHILDREN:
Inclusive education was introduced in the Primary Education Development Plan II (PEDP-II) 2004-2011, and efforts were initiated to address some of the barriers faced by children with disabilities. The priorities for PEDP-III (2012-2017) include making schools more accessible. It also introduced stipends to support marginalized and disadvantaged children, including those with disabilities. The Bangladesh Primary Education Annual Sector Performance Report 2013 reported that the number of children with disabilities enrolled in government primary schools and registered non-government primary schools had increased significantly, exceeding the target set in the PEDP-II. This was particularly true for children with physical disabilities and visual impairments.
The Education Policy 2010 addresses children with disabilities, as does the Comprehensive Early Childhood Care and Development Policy, approved in November 2013. Children with disabilities are adequately addressed in these policies, with emphasis on inclusion beginning with early learning centres/preschools and other early childhood development centres. Fewer initiatives are visible for secondary students with disabilities. However, the Department of Social Services in the Ministry of Social Welfare (MOSW) provides a resource teacher and a resource room in 64 secondary schools to support students with visual impairments. It also provides Braille books and other teaching aids. Nevertheless, secondary school enrolment tends to be lower among children with disabilities, as they are often forced to drop out of school due to lack of accommodation for taking exams.
Despite these achievements, the inclusive education concept and practice is at a nascent stage of development in Bangladesh. Awareness and understanding of inclusive education is limited. Social norms and behaviours among education staff and community members continue to obstruct progress. The Effective Schools through Enhanced Education Management (ESTEEM) II study reported that parents faced many obstacles to enrolling their children with disabilities in school. From school authorities they faced ignorance and negative attitudes as well as fear of not being able to handle a child with disabilities. In addition, they faced repercussions from other parents and students for allowing children with disabilities to mingle with their peers without disabilities.
Themainstream school system is not well equipped to meet the varied needs of children with disabilities.The school system does not yet use a child-centred teaching methodology, making it difficult to meet the needs of students. ESTEEM II study found that for 83 per cent of the children with disabilities, no classroom adaptations were made to address mobility and communication barriers, not even such simple accommodations as moving children with visual impairment to the front of the room or having childrenstudy in pairs.Braille books were not available, even though the Government has a Braille press and a policy to provide free primary-level books in Braille to children with visual impairments. As Bangla Sign Language is not yet disseminated broadly across the whole country, communication is difficult for children with hearing and speech impairments.
Various services are provided in Bangladesh through the MOSW and by NGOs and other civil society organizations. But adequate numbers of schools are not yet available for all children, who require specialized education services. Access to special education is insufficient. Fewer than 1,500 students have access to a special education in schools sponsored by the Government of Bangladesh. The majority of government-supported programmes cater to children with physical, visual and hearing impairments. Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities tend to be the most marginalized as their education is dependent on NGOs. Special education services for children with autism or intellectual impairments are primarily being provided by JatiyoProtibondhiUnnayan Foundation (JPUF), NGOs and private organizations.The schools run by NGOs are dependent on donor funding, which is not sustainable in the long term.
Bangladesh has very few teachers trained in special education. In addition, the training provided by the Government often does not include practical classroom teaching experience.
Education services for children with disabilities are not always mainstreamed. The limited involvement of the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MOPME) in non-mainstream education services affects standardization of curricula, secure funding, support for expansion, access to school-based health and nutrition programmes, and smooth access to higher education.
FURTHER WORK ON THE EDUCATIONAL RIGHT OF THE DISABLED CHILDREN NEEDS TO INCLUDE:
Government and civil society has to ensure proper investment in inclusive education and incorporation of the disabled children in the mainstream education. Special allocations should be made for their education and provide them with proper attention, facilities and materials. To make inclusive education more effective, disabled children’s presence in the normal schools should be monitored and their participations in the social and cultural activities should be encouraged from the very beginning. It is also crucially important to engage with disabled children directly, to build their confidence, awareness of their rights, and capacity to communicate.
The 2009 UNESCO Policy Guidelines on Inclusion in Education present the case for inclusion as a human rights principle but also underscore the social and educational benefits of education. They note, “Educating all children together not only benefits the child with disabilities but also teaches all children about tolerance, acceptance of difference and respect for diversity.” Reducing discrimination is critical to realization of the core commitments in the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh, which aims to ensure “equality, human dignity and social justice” for all.
The usual community prejudices of looking at what is seen as a disability, why, what expectations community members have of disabled children, what disabled children spend their time doing, what their employment potential is, etc. has to be challenged to overcome the narrow perceptions.
Skills, capacity and confidence has to be developed to work effectively with disabled children, to buildteacher’s confidence and ability to work with a range of different disabilities, or bringing in teachers with specific skills and training.
Additionalfunding has to be provided to ensure school infrastructure is appropriate for children with disabilities: that the classroom is accessible, the books are appropriate, and there are accessible sanitation facilities etc.
Experience in other parts of the world has shown that with a proper education, children with disabilities not only become literate, but they also train for jobs, become valuable family members and citizens, and can achieve a level of satisfaction and independence enjoyed by their non-disabled peers. Equity of education is not just a civil responsibility; it is an investment in human resources that will reward the State as well as its individual citizens