4 MIN READ
Inclusive education is 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. The right to education is part of numerous human rights conventions and treaties, as it is essential to achieving other rights such as freedom of expression, equality before the law, and the right to work.
Nepal too is a State Party to several international human rights instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Once a country becomes a signatory to an international legal instrument then it has an obligation to comply and implement the instrument’s provisions within its jurisdiction. The country has to abide by the ratified international treaty as per the norms of “pacta sunt servanda” (the principle in international law and diplomacy that holds that international treaties, once entered into, should be upheld by all the signatories).
But the ratification of the CRPD by Nepal’s government in 2010 has not brought any significant practical change in the daily life of children with disabilities, especially girls with disabilities in remote rural Nepal.
Based on UN and World Health Organization estimates, Nepal has 60,000 to 180,000 children ages 5 to 14 with disabilities, and accountability for their education is the government’s responsibility -- one it has not undertaken yet.
On December 13, 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and an associated optional protocol. The formation of CRPD has been hailed as a great landmark in the struggle to reframe the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities in terms of human rights. The CRPD spells out the right to education for children with disabilities in international law in much greater detail than has hitherto been the case.
The CRPD Article 24 requires States Parties to ensure that children with disabilities “are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability” and that they have access to “inclusive, quality and free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live.”
But according to a 2020 report, in Nepal, illiteracy rates are high for children with disabilities (45 percent compared to 11 percent of children without disabilities) and children with disabilities have worse school attendance than children without disabilities.
Education is a vital instrument, one that can ensure that society’s marginalized can lift themselves out of poverty. Moreover, education plays a vital role in empowering women. It safeguards children from exploitation and hazardous labor and sexual exploitation. It promotes human rights and democracy. Increasingly, education is considered as one of the best financial investments that a government can make.
The UNESCO Salamanca statement, also named as World Conference on Special Needs Education, strongly suggests that all children to be accommodated in ordinary schools, regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions, as per the framework, national and local policies should stipulate that disabled children attend the neighbourhood school “that would be attended if the children did not have a disability.”
But Nepal’s schools -- private and public -- are not designed in any way that is friendly to children with disabilities. In fact, in Nepal, there are a number of barriers that prevent children with disabilities from receiving decent education, such as lack of information about the right to education to include persons with disabilities and inadequate knowledge about existing possibilities; inaccessible school facilities with poor reasonable accommodation; stigma against children with disabilities and their families; segregated and inferior quality of education; lack of adequately trained teachers; and inflexible curriculum and evaluation systems.
Education policy-makers too have a poor idea of the meaning of inclusive education, integrated education, and special needs education. The government is therefore failing to ensure an inclusive high-quality education system for children with disabilities, especially for girls with disabilities in rural Nepal. As a result, in rural Nepal illiteracy remains high among girls with disabilities. However, exact data is hard to come by because no national surveys have been conducted on the disabled population. The official census data of Nepal (2011) reports a 1.94 percent disability rate.
Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) emphasizes several obligations for State Parties, such as ensuring legislation to promote the right to education for persons with disabilities of all ages and providing equal educational opportunities at all levels of education. It also obliges State Parties to advance inclusive education systems that allow children with disabilities to learn alongside their peers in inclusive schools.
But unless the Nepal government takes the issue of inclusive education seriously, children’s right to education, especially girls’, is a far-fetched dream.
Dev Datta Joshi Mr. Dev Datta Joshi is a leading expert in the area of disability rights, and has published extensively in the area. His particular areas of interest are inclusive education, legal capacity, access to justice, and de-institutionalization of persons with disabilities. He has been working in Nepal for over 20 years as a Senior Human Rights Lawyer. In 2015, Mr. Joshi competed for and won a prestigious Open Society Foundations Fellowship at the Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society at York University in Toronto. There, he worked on a research project to support the right to live in the community and the right to legal capacity, comparing legal and policy regimes in Canada and Nepal. The project culminated in a set of recommendations for advancement of such rights systems in both countries. In 2018-2019, while on the Humphrey Fellowship at American University Washington College of Law, he studied disability law (especially mental disabilities law), the Americans with Disabilities Act, legal representation of clients with mental disabilities, the interaction between people with disability and criminal justice system, and the relationship between disability and international human rights. Mr. Joshi has obtained five post-secondary degrees, including two post-graduate degrees, one of which is an LLM from the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland (Galway). As a disability rights lawyer, he has conducted relevant work in favor of persons with disabilities, such as combating involuntary sterilization of women with disabilities, establishing the first audio library in Nepal for visually impaired students, and removing discriminatory terms from Nepalese legislation, especially those concerned with women with intellectual disabilities. In addition, Mr. Joshi has practiced law in Nepal, taking cases to the Nepalese Supreme Court and helping make landmark jurisprudence regarding disability rights.
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