Education and Disability

This is a bit different from my usual writing. However, I decided to share it as I had saved it to my drafts on my work email and had sat there for five months without a home. It is based on notes I have made from experiences and courses I have done on disability, education, and low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets out the responsibility of states to provide an inclusive education system at all levels. Article 24 states that people with disabilities have the right to education on an equal basis with others and without discrimination. The CRPD committee’s General Comment on inclusive education further articulates the right to education for people with disabilities.

However, learning environments are not always inclusive and safe places. They can be sites of physical, verbal, psychological and sexual violence, and social exclusion. For children and young people who are perceived as ‘different’ and who do not fit into dominant cultures in societies, schools can actually be alienating and marginalising spaces. Moreover, violence in educational settings is a daily reality that denies millions of children and young people the fundamental human right to education.

However, despite global progress in achieving universal access to education, more than half the 65 million children with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries are not in school. They face multiple barriers to receiving an education including inaccessible schools, inaccessible teaching materials, prejudice and discrimination from teachers and bullying from peers. The situation is particularly concerning for girls with disabilities,as they are at an increased risk of violence, which can also lead to families choosing not to send them to school. In conflict settings, the risk of gender-based violence increases for all girls. Leaving them in a cycle of poverty and inequality that extends throughout adulthood.

Globally, we are facing a learning crisis. Not only are children out of school, but once in school, they are failing to learn. Children with disabilities experience lower levels of enrolment, attainment and literacy. The attainment gaps between children with disabilities and children without disabilities are growing, and children with disabilities are being left behind.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Language

On this the day of International Literacy, I think of anthropologist Wade Davis work on languages; he states that half the languages of the world are on the brink of extinction. Pause for a minute and think what that means. To be the last person that spoke, read and wrote your native language with no way to pass this knowledge on. Amazing that every two weeks on average this happens to someone around the world. Davis states that this means within a generation or two we will lose half of humanity’s legacy.

As you read this, you may think doesn’t matter, we all speak English and/or wouldn’t it better if there was one language for all, would we all not get along better then? Sure, but let’s make it Chamicuro, Liki or Kaixana. Perhaps now we can understand what it may be like not to speak our native language. For many of us a world where people could no longer speak, write or read English seems unimaginable given how much is spoken, written and said in it daily. By losing languages we’re losing more than a solitary voice in the dark but a way of life, customs and traditions.

So as we go about today, reading and writing in our various languages on Facebook to E-mail and text think about this. Also, consider not just how lucky we are to have the gifts to do so, because they are gifts that not all humans have the opportunities to learn these even now in the second decade of the 21st century. Equally, embrace our diversity in all its beautiful colours that enrich the world, even removing but one colour from the rainbow would change the world around us forever before it’s too late.

© Fi S. J. Brown