Advancing inclusive education: making children with disabilities visible in Togo, Lesotho, and Vietnam
THE NATIONAL EDUCATION COALITIONS
Togo: The Togolese National Coalition for Education for All (CNT-EPT) is a network of organisations and individuals working to ensure the necessary conditions for all children in Togo to access quality education. For French speakers, view this video published by CNT/EPT about the World Education Day in Kara.
Lesotho: The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (LCN) is an umbrella organization for 140 NGOs in Lesotho, including the Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled who works on disability and education.
Vietnam: The Vietnam Association for Education for All (VAEFA) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations, civil society, and individuals advocating for the right to education of all Vietnamese, with strong attention to marginalised groups such as those with disabilities, women, ethnic minorities, and children, youth and adults from vulnerable groups.
Around 15% of the world’s population is living with a disability. When it comes to education, children with disabilities are especially disadvantaged. They are both less likely to attend school and at greater risk of dropping out. Despite more global attention towards the rights of children to access quality education, children with disabilities are often left behind by global efforts to improve education opportunities.
The National Education Coalitions in Togo, Lesotho, and Vietnam, supported by Education Out Loud, are employing interesting approaches in their work to ensure the rights of children with disabilities to access quality education.
“When it comes to children with disabilities, we are still at the point of ensuring access to education while for other groups it is now about the quality of education – not merely access,” says Nkhasi Sefuthi, Executive Director of Lesotho National Federation of Organizations of the Disabled (LNFOD), a member of the National Education Coalition in Lesotho.
Making children with disabilities visible
“Children living with disabilities are often invisible from data and statistics of ministries in charge of education and training. This, and their exclusion from social life, makes them highly vulnerable. Raising awareness among parents about the rights of children with disabilities to access education and employment is key in addressing these issues. But it is equally important to raise awareness of the need for public authorities to reflect on the inclusive education dimension in their budgets, education projects, and planning,” says Marcel Toï, National Coordinator of CNT/EPT, the National Education Coalition in Togo.
In Togo, CNT/EPT is organizing workshops for parents of children with disabilities and rolling out national monitoring tools that teachers and trainers from the teacher training colleges can use to assess the level of inclusion of children with disabilities in schools.
Disability and education are top priorities for the Vietnam Association for Education for All (VAEFA). The coalition works closely with the deaf community and policymakers, and has managed to bridge gaps and improve cooperation between the two groups:
“The deaf community in Vietnam was previously excluded from political influence and had given up on cooperating with policymakers. We needed to create a bridge between them, conduct workshops, and establish relationships to ensure that the deaf community is given the space to engage and articulate their recommendations in policy-making processes” says Nguyen Thi Kim Anh, National Coordinator of VAEFA.
In Vietnam, the deaf people are some of the most marginalized groups and many deaf children are never enrolled in school.
“Many parents don’t think their deaf children can learn”, says Kim Anh Nguyen.
To address this, VAEFA has, with the support of Education Out Loud, held strategic events and initiatives organized completely by the deaf community. These advocacy efforts have created awareness, put inclusive education on the political agenda, and increased understanding amongst parents of their children’s needs and rights.
Some of the main issues that the coalitions experience are the lack of capacities in schools and knowledge among teachers to accommodate children with disabilities and their different needs:
“When it comes to education, schools are not physically accessible for them. In Lesotho, only 5 schools in the whole country can ensure the necessary support for hearing or visually impaired children” Nkhasi Sefuthi from LNFOD in Lesotho says.
Workshops for parents in Togo
“We are continuously conducting training and workshops for parents to children living with disabilities. We can see that the parent’s mindsets are changing. When it comes to disability, changing people’s mindsets is the challenging part. We create dialogue with the parents and talk to them about the importance of schooling for children with disabilities. But also train them in how to support their children.”
- Marcel Toï from CNT/EPT in Togo
In Togo, Lesotho, and Vietnam, teachers are often not sufficiently trained to understand different types of disabilities. Because of this gap in training, the national education coalitions engage directly in the training of teachers to equip them to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities.
Lack of education steals the futures of children with disabilities
As a result of not being able to access quality education, children with disabilities subsequently become excluded from employment later in life. To address this, CNT/EPT in Togo has had success in engaging with the informal education sector:
“All these children who could not fit into the normal education system have been left out – often for many years. This is why we cooperate with the informal education sector to create opportunities for children living with disabilities and make sure they are taken into account in education budgets and programs” says Marcel Toï, National Coordinator of CNT/EPT.
Movie production in Vietnam
With the financial support of Education Out Loud, VAEFA has recently produced the short movie “Where I belong” focusing on the intersection between disability and gender. The movie was produced in collaboration with the deaf community and the whole crew were deaf people except the cameraman and the director, the latter being a sign-language interpreter.
The lead actresses and actors are some of the deaf students who have been supported by VAEFA in studying to become teachers. VAEFA recently celebrated the graduation of 8 new deaf teachers. Previously, only 32 deaf people out of 1-2 million in Vietnam have graduated from college. VAEFA is soon bringing the movie to premiere at a large festival. They hope the movie will raise awareness among the public and policymakers, and will translate to disability inclusive education policies, programs, and financing in Vietnam.
Check out the trailer here.
Getting policymakers’ attention
The governments of Lesotho and Vietnam have recently adopted new legislation securing rights for children with disabilities. The Act on Inclusive Education in Lesotho was a result of determined efforts by civil society organizations working together to pressure the government. In the context of Lesotho, the act is the first of its kind to secure rights to inclusive education specifically for children with disabilities:
“The act has ensured the rights of disabled children under enforceable law. Individuals and civil society can now claim these rights. It gives the people power to protect the right to education for children with disabilities and hold policymakers accountable” Nkhasi Sefuthi, National Coordinator of LNFOD in Lesotho explains.
For VAEFA in Vietnam, it was a victory when a revised education law was adopted in 2019:
“The revised education law had a clause stating that people from ethnic minorities can learn through their own language. But we pushed through to add a clause stating that the blind and deaf people also have a right to learn through their languages. Sign language and braille are the languages that they feel comfortable to learn in,” says Kim Anh Nguyen.
The three national education coalitions are noting positive changes in the mindsets of policymakers. With increasing focus on rights for persons with disabilities, civil society is now more crucial than ever in creating awareness and making sure that the implementation of new policies happens in practice:
“Sometimes, the government forgets that the role of civil society is to be the voice of the voiceless. We want infrastructure that is accessible for everyone. So, we need to hold them accountable. As civil society, we will still knock on doors and insist on what needs to be changed and implemented,” says Sebabatso Ntlamelle, Health and Social Development Commission Coordinator of the Lesotho Council of NGOs.
DISABILITY AND EDUCATION
According to a study conducted in 19 developing countries by the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), 30% of children with disabilities have never been in school (World Bank 2017).
The gaps between children with and without disabilities have increased substantially during the last decades and children with disabilities have largely been excluded from efforts to improve education outcomes in the developing world (World Bank 2017).
Children with disabilities’ access to school is often limited by a lack of understanding about their needs, and a lack of trained teachers, classroom support, learning resources and facilities (GPE 2021).