Realising inclusive education for children with disabilities in LesothoPosted: 15 July, 2013
Inclusive education advocates for educational systems with an approach that serves the needs of all learners while identifying and overcoming barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from being included in the educational system. Lesotho has a high literacy rate of 87%. In spite of this commendable figure, about 40% of children with disabilities (CWDs) between the ages of 5 and 10 do not attend primary school while 23% of children with disabilities between ages 10 and 20 do not attend high school. These figures are significantly higher when compared to children without disabilities in the same age groups.
The Constitution of Lesotho recognises education as a directive principle of state policy under Chapter 3 of the Constitution and not as a justiciable right. However, the Child Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 and the Education Act of 2010 expressly affirm the right of children with disabilities to education. In addition, Section 4(2)(b) of the Education Act imposes an obligation on duty bearers to ensure that children with disabilities are included in the educational system. The right to education is also protected under Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This provision also places an obligation on state parties not to exclude children with disabilities from free and compulsory primary education, and that the inclusion is complemented by accessibility, reasonable accommodation, and effective individualised support aimed at maximising academic and social development. Lesotho ratified the CRPD in 2008 and adopted a free universal primary education in 2001 as a means of achieving education for all. Lesotho has a National Disability Policy of 2011, the Education Sector Strategic Plan 2005-2015, and the Special Education Unit all geared towards achieving inclusive education for people with disabilities. The legal implication of these laws and policies is that the government of Lesotho has obligations under international and domestic law to ensure that children with disabilities are not excluded from the general educational system and that children with disabilities can learn on an equal basis with abled children. However, children with disabilities still do not attend primary school. There is a huge gap between the legal framework and the practical implementation of inclusive education in Lesotho.
Several factors account for Lesotho’s poor realisation of inclusive education. Inadequate human and material resources such as sign language interpreters, teachers skilled in braille, and brailed textbooks are a major challenge. Most schools that cater for children with disabilities are mainly located in the capital city – Maseru – and children with disabilities sometimes travel several kilometres to go to school. More importantly, children with disabilities are still perceived as abnormal and should not be placed together with children without disabilities.
An inclusive system is reflective of a system that provides a range of support that meets the needs of all children. Lesotho’s self-proclaimed practice of inclusive education is based on placing children in the mainstream classroom with inadequate facilities. These few facilities are usually made available at the insistence of disabled people’s organisations, and sometimes by the government. This approach reflects an integrated system requiring children with disabilities to fit in rather than an inclusive system designed to meet the needs of all children including children with disabilities.
There is a lack of commitment by the government in creating the necessary inclusive environment through facilities, support and capacity building programmes to fill the gaps in the educational sector. As long as children with disabilities do not have access to quality basic education in an all-inclusive system and on an equal basis with others, Lesotho falls short of its obligations under Article 24 of the CRPD.
In conforming to the standards of the Convention, capacity building is key. This requires the government of Lesotho to support regular and effective capacity building initiatives such as workshops and disability equality training for all teachers in the educational system. Allocation of sufficient resources to facilitate an all-inclusive educational system and develop the capacity of all schools in providing education for all children is also necessary. This needs to be complemented by renovating public utilities to accord accessibility to schools and other public places.
The legal framework in Lesotho is conducive for inclusive education, however this has not been translated into measureable targets aimed at providing education for all categories of children. Lesotho is yet to realise that the full implication of inclusive education involves developing all schools to meet the needs of all children with disabilities and not limiting educational opportunities for children with disabilities to specific schools as the current situation does. Education cannot be free where the system lacks the proper mechanism to make it available for the benefit of all children.
About the Author:
Precious Eriamiatoe holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria) and is currently an LLM candidate at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria (South Africa). She has previously been engaged with the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre in Lagos and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Nigeria. Precious has been active in private practice as a litigator with the law firm of Babalakin & Co, a private commercial law firm based in Lagos, Nigeria. Her research interests are human rights, child rights, international criminal law, and trade and investment law. This article is a result of field research in Lesotho conducted from 6-13 April 2013.