Questions are being raised around the possibility of having quality inclusive education in the quest to create a disability inclusive Zambia. Such questions do not have immediate answers of “yes it is possible” or “no it is not possible”. Maybe this is why it is still difficult to explicitly define ‘inclusive education’ with a one world-wide accepted definition. Therefore, we shall by all means sway away, from attempting to define inclusive education. But, straight away, inclusive education is not about placing children with disabilities in the same classroom as other children without disabilities. No!
With this approach of examining the concept of creating a disability inclusive Zambia and strongly standing for it, we shall remain simple and non-academic and non-scholarly in our argument. This argument is meant to encourage the Government of the Republic of Zambia to sign up to the GDS22 with specific and deliverable Commitments on delivering quality inclusive education.
Quality inclusive education is still a controversial necessity and excellent component of creating a disability inclusive Zambia and it is inevitable in this growing era of leaving no one behind. No learner must be left behind. No learner at all! Not even on the basis of whatever impairment they have.
Zambia is a well ‘nourished and fertilised country’ for the progressive implementation of sustainable quality inclusive education. This is so because it already has non-discriminatory pieces of legislation that expressly protect the rights of children with disabilities from any form of distinction, exclusion and restriction in accessing general education on an equal basis with other children without disabilities. Zambia has got a Constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Zambia has got the Education Act of 2011 and the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2012 both of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability when it comes to enrolment, retention and progression in the education system. The country has been promoting quality inclusive education in its Fifth, Sixth and Seventh National Development Plans. Its Eighth National Development Plan (draft) is also strong on the promotion of quality inclusive education. All national budgets for the last five to six years are explicit on promoting and standing for inclusion and leaving no one behind. This includes disability inclusion in the education system and leaving no child with a disability behind.
Zambia is blessed with pilot programmes on the implementation of inclusive education which hungrily wait for scaling-up. What an already given base for drawing sustainable Commitments on quality inclusive education by the Government of the Republic of Zambia. The government cannot deliberately shy away from this glorious gift of an open and friendly environment of ‘easy-to-adopt situations towards creating a disability inclusive Zambia with an effective and sustainable inclusive education system. Will the government shy away? No of course!
The Government of the Republic of Zambia may actually base its Commitments on what it already holds in its warm and promising disability inclusive arms. Commitments on quality inclusive education should be based and focussed on ensuring that all schools and other learning institutions are physically accessible to all children with disabilities; all teachers, including teachers with disabilities, are progressively trained and equipped with teaching skills to manage, monitor and evaluate an inclusive education system in which full and effective participation of children with disabilities in quality learning is taking place. This should be accomplished side-by-side with achieving artistic, life, emotional, intellectual, and social and academic/skills development on an equal basis with other children without disabilities. This calls for Commitments for a step-by-step review of the teacher education curriculum that will eventually graduate teachers who are ‘disability inclusive’ and highly skilled to sustain the progressive growth and development of true inclusive education through a more collaborative and participatory approach. Such a collaborative and participatory approach demands for real conviction of the families and community structures around the schools. This real conviction of the families and community structures must be tagged with a concrete pillar of sustainability arising from the principles of community ownership, community mobilisation and education, passionate voluntarism, child-education-rights first, child-quality-health first and full teacher support and motivation. This is all addressing the family and community structures.
The burden of actualising and developing all this work with the families and community structures will be borne by the government through a sustainable local resource mobilisation drive. The local resource mobilisation drive will be anchored on local development and modernisation of teaching and learning materials, decentralised recruitment of both trained and volunteer teachers that includes parents, raising and maintenance of accessible and climate resilient school infrastructure. This will further cement itself on the effective participation of parents and community leaders in the management of the schools in a more strategic structure that may mirror a Parent and Teacher’s Association but more of a Collaborative School Inclusion Committee. This GDS 22 Commitment by government is crucial because it requires adequate budgetary allocations and prudent management of resources. Otherwise, it is apparently an unavoidable Commitment for the government.
In view of the above, Commitments to support the family and community structures must be made to ensure the structures receive adequate allocation and disbursement of financial resources to facilitate for the acquisition of modern inclusive assistive technology and devices, accessible learning materials like books in accessible formats, e.g. Braille for children with visual impairments, appropriate teaching and learning languages like sign language with the recognition of the deaf culture for children who are hearing impaired, finances and other technical supplies to repair and maintain the teaching as well as learning equipment, including computer based learning technology.
The drive towards quality inclusive education will require a National Education Policy that depicts and promotes the implementation of sustainable inclusive education. The Ministry of Education already developed and published a Guide on Special and Inclusive Education. The inclusive education components of this Guide can easily be adopted to build a strong policy on education which reflects clear disability inclusive principles. The Commitment here is to have the 1996 National Education Policy – Educating our Future reviewed to adopt a more child rights based policy with clear deliverables in its implementation plan accompanied by a reflective budget of the actions. This GDS 22 Commitment is also inevitable because the review of the 1996 education policy is long overdue.
Awareness raising is a key component of the drive towards creating a disability inclusive Zambia with the contribution of quality inclusive education. Inclusive education in Zambia seems to be a very controversial concept. This is all because of the inadequate understanding of its principles and implications as an educational model based on education as a right for all. This is why the government should commit itself to provide quality inclusive education at all levels starting from early childhood education to tertiary and life-long education to cater for all. In order to strengthen this, government should commit itself to providing free education to children with disabilities at all levels. The government should also commit itself to provide reasonable accommodation to all children with disabilities in the education system. In order for this to be accepted and sustainable disability awareness should be delivered to the communities, teachers, school management and other professionals and workers within the education system.
The implementation of quality inclusive education requires regular update of disaggregated data on the different categories of children with disabilities in and out of school, the ages and sex of all the children with disabilities. It is also essential to have data on children without disabilities within the same schooling system. This is one easy Commitment the government can carry to the GDS22.
It is very important for government to engage in international cooperation for the effective implementation of quality inclusive education. Exchange of learning and experiences in the implementation of quality inclusive education will bring a ground for delivering what we would like to deliver in advancing inclusive education for the creation of a disability inclusive Zambia. International cooperation may extend to support in terms of human, financial and technical support. Why not sign up to a Commitment to enhance international cooperation for the development and implementation of quality and sustainable inclusive education in Zambia? This will be good for a disability inclusive Zambia.
Remember, this article is not on how to implement inclusive education. It is to encourage the Government of the Republic of Zambia to sign up to the Global Disability Summit 2022, take the leadership to adopt more specific and deliverable Commitments on quality inclusive education to contribute to creating a disability inclusive Zambia. Zambia is known to be a peaceful and democratic country. The question remains, is peace and democracy real peace and democracy in an exclusive society? We believe it’s NOT! Zambia must remain a beacon of peace and democracy. Zambia must remain a beacon of disability inclusion. Let us build this disability inclusion drive through the contributions of quality inclusive education.
As we conclude, it is essential for the government to realise that these GDS22 Commitments are not a stand-alone programme to advance disability inclusion. The Commitments will assist the government to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leave no one behind. The Commitments also help the government to enhance its efforts on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). So, it is not in vain. Quality inclusive education aims at having more children with disabilities acquire a higher quality of education.