There is a lack of coherent information on how many disabled children there are in South Africa, where they come from, and where they live. This emerged at this year’s Disability Rights in Africa Conference, held for the sixth time at the University of Pretoria.
Dr Nkatha Murungi, Assistant Director at UP’s Centre for Human Rights, questioned why not much progress was being made in attaining inclusive education and appealed to delegates to apply their minds to fast-tracking this goal in South Africa.
The theme of the conference was “Are we learning together? Addressing barriers to inclusive education in the African region”, and it brought together people with disabilities, their family members, policymakers, policy implementers, lawyers, scholars, and human rights and disability rights activists to share ideas and experiences on the implementation of the rights of people with disabilities, as provided for in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Delegates who presented at the conference all work in inclusive education in various capacities, as academics and members of civil society, and came from 16 countries including Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Zanzibar, India, the US and the UK.
A wide range of topics related to inclusive education were covered. This included challenges to and good practices in achieving inclusive education for all; models of inclusive education; meeting the needs of learners with specific disabilities; curriculum and policy development for inclusive education; capacity-building; implementation strategies; and the role of socialisation, parents and media in achieving inclusive education.
Eight capacity-building workshops were also conducted during the two-day conference, with Prof Ann Skelton, Director of UP’s Centre for Child Law and a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, facilitating a strategic litigation on inclusive education workshop.
During the conference it emerged that while people with disabilities experience systemic discrimination in all socioeconomic spheres, it is in the education sector that such prejudice has some of its most devastating and long-lasting effects. Barriers to education translate into barriers to the economic sector, which means the affected individual doesn’t have economic independence and therefore life-long dependence on the family, the state and charity. The over-representation of persons with disabilities among the poor is largely explained by their under-representation in access to education and vocational skills.
Article 24 of the UNCRPD and Article 16 of the African Union Protocol recognise the right to inclusive education as an integral part of the human right to education. Both aim to remedy the historical marginalisation and exclusion of people with disabilities from the education system and guarantee a right to education at all levels, without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity. This marks a departure from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to one where the state must provide learners with disabilities access to education within an environment that provides them with the support they need to attain ‘effective education’ through the ‘general education system’.
Source University of Pretoria