The concept of inclusive education evolved to ensure the right to education for all children who are disabled and socially and economically marginalised. It was mooted in the World Conference on Special Needs Education held in Salamanca, Spain in 1994. Inclusive education is, in fact, an education system which ensures that children receive quality education in an educational environment that is child-friendly, fair, multicultural and equitable. It takes into account the diverse factors such as caste, gender, language, culture, geographical variation, poverty and disability. Children from socially and economically oppressed class, Dalit, indigenous and minority communities as well as those affected by conflict, trafficking and superstition-related diseases are imparted education in an inclusive manner. In Nepal, the idea of promoting inclusive education came to the fore with the campaign of Education for All (EFA). Under it, children are categorised into disabled, disadvantaged and marginalised groups. Altogether 13 groups have been identified. They include sexually abused, those staying in prison and sick children labelled as Special Focus Group (CERID, 2006). Nepal’s constitution has guaranteed citizen’s rights to education regardless of his/her gender, caste, ethnicity, race, disability and economic status. It is the duty of the state to impart education to children but financial and managerial problems hamper the government to fulfill this responsibility. There are provisions and policies to provide education to the children with hearing impairment (CWHI) but an effective implementation of these policies is yet to be ascertained. This writer has conducted a study on the problems and challenges of inclusive education in Nepal with a focus on CWHI. The findings are based on the perceptions of 182 teachers teaching to CWHI in 35 schools of 20 districts from all seven states of country.
Challenges Numerous challenges stand in the way of realising the notion of inclusive education in Nepal. One pertinent challenge is their number and diversity. There are fewer teachers in proportion to the number of hearing-impaired students. There are not separate textbooks and curriculum for such students. Special methods and educational materials are required to teach them. Owing to the multiple constraints, they also suffer from low level of understanding, forcing the teachers to spend more time for them. General textbooks are provided to them, which do not enhance their learning process. There is little research and study on CWHI-focused education. The schools are supposed to prepare brochures and prospectus on education policy and programme relating to CWHI-focused education but they have been unable to do so. Besides, there is no motivation for teachers to conduct online classes and distance education. Teachers also feel that they lack certain skills to handle and integrate the CWHI into mainstream education system because they do not receive regular professional and practical CWHI-focused trainings. Teachers perceive that there is lack of information exchange on the updates of CWHI-focused education in schools. Thus, the teachers have taken recourse to the traditional methods and style that may not click the latent talent of the hearing-impaired students. Schools lack the education counselors essential for imparting special education to the students. There is minimum level of disaster management training to the teachers and students alike, making them prone to disaster. In similar manner, the schools do not have strategy to check the child abuse. This makes physically challenged students vulnerable. In absence of disabled-friendly infrastructure, disabled students are often at the risk of accidents. As the schools do not conduct the medical camps and offer health facilities time to time, the condition of the hearing-impaired are getting further miserable. The study has found out that parents’ participation in the School Management Committee (SMC) and conferences on inclusive education is not encouraging. There is minimal level of participation of teachers in the visit to model CWHI-focused schools. The SMC, parents, and experts have been unable to allot adequate time required for the proper placement of the students in the schools, leading to low level of care for them. It has also been found out that all hearing-impaired students have no access to textbooks and education materials. They do not have hearing aid and other devices for learning in the class rooms. Teachers pay little attention to the practice of grouping and regrouping of students, which is vital for boosting the understanding of students. Promoting the quality education is the SDG Goal 4 but poor infrastructure and facilities have impeded in making this goal a reality. Allocation of sufficient resources is the key to promoting the quality of education but many schools still suffer from the scarcity of resources. The students should be allowed to participate in equitable extra-curricular activities such as children clubs of students. But the students with hearing-impairment are often discriminated when it comes to attending programmes of the children's clubs. There is little participation of person with disabilities and impaired hearing in SMC and RCMC in the schools. Similarly, SMCs do not always involve all stakeholders in decision making process. Further, schools do not inspire all members of the schools to understand and implement the objectives of CWHI-focused inclusive education. What is more important is the culture of learning, teaching and researching which is sorely lacking in the schools.
Way forward The schools need to ensure that teacher-student ratio is as per the policy of government. Similarly, there is a need of special textbooks, flexible curriculum, hearing aid and devices, basic disabled-friendly facilities for the CWHI. This is necessary to increase the quality of CWHI-focused education. It is imperative to have a reservation policy to promote the education for the hearing-impaired students. Parents, teachers, school management experts must work in close coordination to make sure that the students with deafness are not deprived of their right to education. They need to be encouraged to actively participate in the curricular and extra-curricular activities for their better academic performance.
(The author is a PhD Scholar of School of Education at Kathmandu University. firstname.lastname@example.org)