Inclusive education is a concept that stems from the idea that all children around the world, regardless of disability, race, class, sex, religion or language, are entitled to an education. It contains many similarities to the more widely known method of integration, which focuses primarily on disability and special needs. This is derived from Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: everyone has the right to education (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). However, we believe this needs to go a step further, as is defined by Sustainable Development Goal No.4: Quality Education (UN, 2015). The concept of quality education means that education is not just imparted but it is delivered in a way that maximises its constructive effects on the children. And with quality education there is a close tie to inclusive education. Inclusive education is about giving the world’s future the highest possible ability to adapt to change and solve the challenges that arise, as no one is left behind.
There are a number of factors preventing inclusive education in developing countries. At the root of many of these factors is poverty. For example, some parents cannot afford (more so that opportunity cost is higher) to send their children to school once the children are old enough to work or get married. The challenge with opportunity cost is the “short-term gains vs long-term benefits”- the cost of sending a child to school with a growing list of investments such as uniform and transport. These are perceived larger due to the high rate of absenteeism amongst teachers, which often is also closely linked to poor economic incentives and lack of school funding. At InAGlobe we believe that technology can help bridge some of the challenges, whether it is related to affordability of educational material, or other.
Then there is the value of alternative education. Alternative education methods have been the norm amongst communities until education became part of a system, whether it was from a religious stand-point or as a result of the Industrial Revolution. However, alternative methods of education can be hugely impactful in communities where schools are overloaded. Mike Wamaya, the founder of Project Elimu (Wamaya, 2017) has been a driving force with his vision on alternative education in Kibera (a slum in Nairobi home to approximately 100,000 people). After a career as a professional dancer, he returned home to Nairobi and started a ballet school. InAGlobe personally met Mike in April this year and we hope to find ways of complementing his envisioned alternative education project so that innovation can be an enabler.
Furthermore, a lack of funding means schools cannot often cater for disabled children, unless supported by another organisation. Children with special needs are a huge source of untapped potential, many hold perspectives on life that no-one else could possibly imagine. The emergence of echolocation as an alternative to sight amongst the blind is just a glimpse of the capabilities that visually impaired individuals have. It is heart-breaking to see a system that so poorly adapts to disability, and it is socially, politically and economically foolish. But disability is not only the visually impaired, it is the amputees, the victims of polio, those with learning difficulties, individuals that were victims of conflict, accidents, violence and disaster, it is a myriad of diversity that can contribute to a better understanding of the world, as well as help build a more inclusive world. In the same way that political institutions should be pluralistic, giving voice to minorities, this also applies within disability, and inclusive education is a necessary stepping stone so that these individuals can become more heavily involved in building a world that works for all. InAGlobe is partnering with the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust to develop a low-cost device that will help teach visually impaired children mathematics. There is no reason why a visually impaired child cannot dream of being an engineer, a scientist, a mathematician, a statistician or an accountant.
This is but a glimpse of the complexity behind the challenge of inclusive education for children with special needs, there is a more pressing imperative which is that the mainstream reality is that many of these children are often socially marginalised, with immense levels of stigma. This is a barrier that is being cleared by countless organisations working on the ground, but it is not enough that organisations do this out of charity. Educational inclusion leads to economic and social inclusion, and along the way the removal of a stigma that is often more disabling than the disability itself.
Inadequate sanitation is another issue causing absenteeism. It often prevents girls from attending school once they begin having their period. The leading cause of school absenteeism is parasites, and other water-borne diseases that are tightly linked to poor sanitation. Effective Altruism, an organisation that helps focus the efforts of motivated individuals towards tackling large impact challenges sees de-parasiting as the most effective leverage point towards education (Effective Altruism, 2019). The list is seemingly endless, and the paradigm is complex, such that the UN estimates that 617 million youths worldwide lack basic numeracy and literacy (UN, 2018). Despite the barriers, small steps can be taken to ensure that communities are progressing towards the goal. These can include:
- The use of teaching assistants or specialists: these staff can make sure that specific attention is given to struggling students, meaning that more students overall can achieve basic numeracy and literacy skills.
- Implementation of an inclusive curriculum: this aims to include themes relevant to the local community and contributions by marginalized and minority groups. It should include children of all abilities, and ideally teach vocational skills for students unable to learn conventional academic skills.
- Specific teaching aids and enabling technologies: this can range from innovative technological solutions that allow more children to be included within the system or elevating the current educational experience by considering alternative forms of learning. (Open Society Foundations, 2019)
Of course, these measures can only be properly implemented if there is significant funding going into the progression of education in developing communities. Often, NGOs or local charities will bring in volunteer teaching assistants or will purchase teaching aids for schools to keep and use. However, the core ideology of inclusivity has only been ingrained into very few schools in developing countries. The idea of rolling out the inclusive education framework almost sounds fanciful, particularly in areas where basic education is considered a luxury. However, by approaching different facets of the problem (e.g. lack of technology, social stigma, poverty), it may eventually be possible to bring education to all.
Due to to InAGlobe’s strong ties with the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, we approach this topic with an emphasis on technological solutions. There have been numerous advances in assistive and educational technology in developed countries to improve the standard of disabled children’s education. This can encompass everything from adapted sitting chairs, to low- and high-tech braille devices, to modified computer controls for children lacking fine motor control. These technologies can make a world of difference to a disabled child and can result in their acquisition of key skills needed to live a more full and independent life. However, technologies such as these are often extremely expensive to manufacture, which reduces their viability in developing countries. If we could make these technologies affordable enough to allow for their implementation, we may be able to reduce the burden of disability on children, parents and schools alike.
So how can we bring about the implementation of these technologies? We believe that by using innovative thinking and human-centred design, we can either come up with brand new solutions or remodel existing technologies to allow for their use in developing countries at a fraction of their current cost. This is something we are striving to promote at InAGlobe, as one of our main priorities is the education of every child. Beyond this, we have a further goal: to raise awareness for these issues so that the engineers and scientists of tomorrow may take on the challenge of finding innovative solutions to global issues. By bringing issues such as inclusivity in education to the mainstream, we hope that we can encourage large-scale involvement and collaboration to tackle these challenges.
Written By: Kavya Ganabady (09/07/2019) - Outreach Volunteer for InAGlobe Education.
Gulland A. 2019. Lack of toilets and water at school puts girls’ education at risk. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/lack-toilets-water-school-puts-girls-education-risk/
N/A. 5 Examples of Assistive Technology in the Classroom. 2015. Retrieved from https://www.masters-in-special-education.com/lists/5-examples-of-assistive-technology-in-the-classroom/
N/A. Eliminating Parasitic Worm Infections. 2019. Retrieved from https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/ea-global-2018-eliminating-parasitic-worm-infections/
N/A. Sustainable Development Goal No.4: Education. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/
N/A. The Value of Inclusive Education. 2019. Retrieved from https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/explainers/value-inclusive-education
N/A. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
N/A. What is Inclusive Education? https://www.allfie.org.uk/definitions/what-is-inclusive-education/
Wamaya M. 2017. https://www.projectelimu.org/