The myth of inclusive education in BotswanaPosted: 18 August, 2014
Author: Tejan Deen
Barrister, Republic of Sierra Leone; LLM Candidate at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa
It is now eighteen years since the National Policy on the Care for Persons with Disabilities was adopted in Botswana and to date people with disabilities have only this policy that speaks to their issues. Children with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable groups of children in Botswana, are still being handled in a ‘medicalised’ manner. These children are segregated especially in the educational system which lacks any form of inclusive education. They have an opportunity to gain formal education only in special schools, most of which are owned by non-governmental organisations such as Cheshire Foundation and Camphill Community Trust. This is completely contrary to the right to inclusive education as guaranteed in international human rights instruments particularly the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Inclusive education is a method of education that gives equal opportunity to children with disabilities by guaranteeing their rights to education and creating an amiable environment to realise that right on an equally basis with other children.
Botswana currently has a Draft Reviewed National Policy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which has remained a draft since it was drafted in 2010. There is also the Inclusive Education Policy of 2011 which has not had any positive impact on the lives of these children as they are still completely ‘out of the picture’ of mainstream schools, and very little provisional mechanisms have been instituted to address their needs. Camphill Community Trust, for example, is located out of the city of Gaborone, which is an indication of how children with disabilities are treated in Botswana: Not fit for mainstream schools. The policy currently in force is the 1996 National Policy on Care for People with Disabilities. This is a policy with a purely medical approach that focuses on the ‘disability’ as in need of cure and rehabilitation instead of providing the necessary conditions in the society to enable children with disabilities to realise their full potentials. The word “care” implies people who should be taken care of; a social encumbrance which should be remedied through social welfare initiatives and goodwill. This situation is made worse by the fact that Botswana does not have a National Human Rights Institution which could have championed the course of the rights of these children.
Botswana is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of a Child (ACRWC) but not the CRPD. The CRPD is the international human rights instrument that has accurately and comprehensively articulated the rights of children with disabilities and persons with disabilities generally. Article 4 imposes obligations on state parties to ensure and promote the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability through administrative, legislative, research, advocacy and other measures. Unlike some other African countries such as Kenya and South Africa which have promulgated laws and developed jurisprudence that observe, respect and protect the rights of children with disabilities, Botswana does not have any legislation that guarantees such rights. This is the situation even though children with disabilities in Botswana are an extremely vulnerable group in need of special protection. The implication of an absence of disability legislation is that these children will continue to be marginalised and segregated in the educational system since they do not have any right to demand inclusive education.
The World Bank in 2012 rated Botswana as a middle income developing country with a very small population of 2.004 million. The 2006 Botswana Demographic Survey indicates that there were 96,125 persons with disabilities in Botswana. With such a relatively small disability population one really wonders why Botswana has not provided an environment of reasonable accommodation and inclusive education for children with disabilities. Botswana is economically better placed to provide for children with disabilities than many other African countries, including Sierra Leone, which are striving to protect the rights of children with disabilities.
For a very long time, parents of children with disabilities in Botswana have been anticipating the realisation of the rights to inclusive education as guaranteed in the CRPD but the present realities show that this is only a myth; a dream that has at best been documented in national policies. But children with disabilities are also human beings! They have rights just like other children! They have a right to inclusive education, for when they are neglected and segregated it is the entire humanity that has been discriminated against. Botswana should therefore take all necessary steps to guarantee the rights of these children; first, by ratifying the CRPD; second, by enacting specific disability legislation; and third, by taking practical measures to create a non-discriminatory society. Laws are enacted to guarantee rights, but true realisation of inclusive education goes beyond the law, it is a process that is not too early for Botswana to commence.
About the Author:
Tejan Deen holds Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and a Bachelor of Law LLB (Honours) degree from the Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. Tejan Deen is a Barrister in the Republic of Sierra Leone and an LLM Candidate at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Tejan Deen has also worked with the Defence Office, Special Court for Sierra Leone, and also Amnesty International Sierra Leone.