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Including Students with Disabilities: between Reality and Dreams_Part 2

2014-08-31

Prince Mired bin Ra’ad

 

Ever since a royal decree was issued to appoint me President of the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I have always remembered the words of my father, His Royal Highness Prince Ra’ad bin Zeid. He urged me to continue the journey of giving and to give the issue of the education of students with disabilities most of my attention. Upon reviewing all the data and the givens on the education of these students and the numbers of those enrolled in inclusive schools, I was shocked.  Although we have made strides in promoting their right to education, the numbers of school-aged children enrolled in schools are still far below what we aspire to reach.

 

I pondered this issue a lot and wondered how to address this imbalance while ensuring that the rights of students with different disabilities to education is not lost. Who is responsible for their absence from school? Isn’t primary education compulsory according to the law of the Ministry of Education? Or are students with disabilities excluded from the application of this law?

 

Where do the rest of disabled children of school age spend their time? Are they wandering in the streets without a censor, or are they enrolled in special education centers? Or are they imprisoned at home, not allowed to leave for fear of stigma?

 

What is the role of parents in demanding the provision of disability-friendly schools qualified to receive persons with disabilities? Who is responsible for providing these schools?

 

What is the role of society in supporting this right?

 

I have even wondered about the role of the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in promoting that right, which is just as important as the right to a decent life. Are the efforts we are expending at the Council enough, or do we need to change the course of our policies and programs so that we can fulfill our obligations to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly with regard to article 24 on the right to education without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities?

 

I still remember the smile of joy on my father’s face during a ceremony honoring the highest-achieving students with disabilities who passed the high school exam. I could see how proud he was of these students' achievements. His words are still ringing in my ears: these students have proved that not enrolling students with disabilities in inclusive schools has nothing to do with their inability to attend school. These students have proven that they are capable of obtaining high grades, sometimes even higher than their non-disabled peers; they are capable of joining the most prestigious universities in various fields.

 

So where is the problem, then?

 

Since its establishment in 2008, the Higher Council has worked on promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, while dedicating a large space to the right to education. This was done by developing pioneering models for programs and services provided, issuing criteria for quality services and programs and purchasing educational services. The Council also provides transportation allowances for students enrolled in inclusive schools. It adopted a partnership system with all government, volunteer-based and international institutions, stemming from the Council’s belief in the importance of bridging gaps in the field, complementing services and programs and connecting all partners and harnessing their efforts in the service of persons with disabilities.

 

 

A lot of effort has been exerted, and an agreement defining roles and responsibilities was signed among the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and the Higher Council. Despite these efforts, there are many obstacles, notably the economic situation in Jordan and the political situation in the region. This has led to overcrowding schools beyond their capacity beside the stress of limited financial resources. This affects the inclusion of students with disabilities and inclusion requirements that must be met before any student could enroll in school.

 

So what should we do under those circumstances?

 

In my view, the Ministry of Education must adopt the comprehensive/ inclusive education approach, which is the building block for the participation of persons with disabilities in society. This approach does not exclude children, especially those with disabilities from education. It enhances the abilities and experiences of children with disabilities, changes misconceptions about them and helps in accepting differences among their non-disabled peers. Inclusive education requires providing educational opportunities for all students within the compulsory education system, which enables children with disabilities and their non-disabled peers to attend the exact classes that are suitable for their ages. It also provides the necessary additional support to each of them individually to suit their needs. This includes providing appropriate measures to employ teachers, including teachers with disabilities, who are proficient in sign language and / or in Braille. Specialists and staff working at all levels of education have to be trained. This training has to focus on disability awareness, the use of appropriate, alternative and enhanced methods and forms of communication, techniques and educational material to help students with disabilities, as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by Jordan.

 

His Highness also referred to the 2013 UNICEF report: it focused on the situation of children around the world and included data from household surveys conducted in 13 low to moderate income countries. The report showed that the probability of enrollment of children with disabilities aged 6 to 17 years in school is far lower than that for children without disabilities. Therefore, unlike their peers without disabilities, children with disabilities are deprived of their right to education. Consequently, Jordan cannot comply to the second goal of the Millennium Development Goals, namely, a universal primary education, a commitment to the Convention on the rights of the Child or boosting the right of children with disabilities to education as one of the most marginalized and excluded groups in this area.

 

The reason for excluding children with disabilities in those countries may be due to the financial cost of providing an inclusive educational environment. However, we must focus on the outcomes of the impact of educating students with disabilities: after graduating from school and enabling them to obtain equal opportunities in university education or vocational training, they can achieve financial independence. They become active and productive members of the state and their income would be taxed. This, in turn, boosts the state treasury and would contribute to covering some of the financial costs which resulted from the provision of educational services to them. On the other hand, those who do not have a chance to receive education form less of a burden (economically and socially) on parents, society and governments. The monthly cost of admission of persons with disabilities into institutions in Jordan is about JD700 per month, in addition to the financial burdens on the State for persons with disabilities who are not institutionalized and who receive monthly financial assistance from the aid fund.

 

 

Let us look at some achievements by people with disabilities throughout history. Thomas Edison’s teacher described him as an idiot who could not learn anything. The electricity you see around you today is the invention of this man. This inventor also showed signs of autism and introversion. He was academically weak and had a speech impediment. Beethoven is one of the greatest musicians. His teacher told him he had “no hope in art,” and then he became one of the greatest artists in the history of mankind. He composed one of his greatest symphonies while he was deaf. In more recent history, we recall Daniel Tammet who has autism. He managed to overcome this disorder through study and hard work. He can speak 11 different languages and learned to speak fluent Icelandic in just 7 days through a television program. Now, he has created a new language known as Mänti as he works in a huge company from home: all he needs is an internet connection.

 

I realize that the process of inclusive education begins with a step, or with steps. We must continue the efforts of the benevolent people of this giving country to ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability. Investing in the energies of children and youth with disabilities in all areas, especially in education, guarantees that they enjoy their rights, and this benefits Jordan’s general interest, and ultimately God lends a hand to people working in groups.

 

* President of the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons Affairs with Disabilities and Special Envoy of the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines.