The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 enshrines education as a fundamental right to all citizens. It also envisages free education up to grade 12 and free and compulsory education up to grade eight. The Act Relating to the Rights of Persons with Disability 2017 provisions for free education up to higher education for persons with disability including free vocational and technical education in the government-operated education institutions. In the same vein, the law also emphasises enhancing quality education for all children by providing educational materials free of cost and a special teacher training programme. The Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2018 has the provision of equal right to access quality education for all without discrimination on any ground.
However, these legal policy provisions are yet to be implemented fully to enable needy children to realise their rights. Thus, most marginalised children (children with disability, girls, Dalit, linguistic minority, ethnic minorities, children from geographically remote areas, etc.) are deprived of such entitlements both in the public and private schools. The reasons for this are lack of – adequate resources (financial and human), quality curriculum, cooperation among schools, local and provincial governments, among others. Given this context, what measures can be adopted at the school level to create an inclusive school environment? What is surprising is there exists little resource dealing with various aspects or components of making school inclusive in practical terms especially in the context of Nepal despite recent debates in the domain nationally and globally.
Physical infrastructure One of the major aspects that needs to be taken into consideration is the school's physical infrastructure. The school should have ramp and hand railings in the school building and classroom having the directions, tactile and signage in the sign language as well. Similarly, school’s learning resources such as the library, computer lab and science lab should be at the ground floor as it is likely to be more accessible for children with disabilities. These facilities should provide access to all forms of disability along with wheel-chair users, crutch-users and visually impaired for free and independent mobility and to use the inside facilities of the rooms. Therefore, while constructing physical infrastructure, considering the above-mentioned aspects could potentially contribute to creating an inclusive school environment.
The kind of teaching method applied in the classrooms also plays a vital role in creating an inclusive school environment. Teachers should promote and make the teaching-learning process interactive and interesting by using student-centric teaching and learning methods. In fact, teachers need to give equal opportunities to children to express their queries and concerns, share their views and experiences and answer questions in the classroom process. The teaching and learning process in the classroom should involve as many students as possible by doing project work, group work, and so on. The teaching method also should vary depending on the types of students’ disability. For instance, in case students find it hard to express verbally, they should be given an opportunity to express their views and thoughts by writing. Similarly, students with hearing impairment should be given an opportunity to play games, do observations, etc. For this, teachers could adopt creative methods of involving students as much as possible for an effective teaching and learning process.
School governance is also critical for creating an inclusive environment. While forming school management committee (SMC), parents-teacher association (PTA) and other structures, parents of children with disability, girls, Dalit, linguistic and sexual minorities, and poor should be involved and included to hear their voices. In Child Clubs, children with disabilities should be involved and their voices should be heard with equal importance. Schools should undertake social and gender audits annually involving stakeholders. In the stakeholder meetings, the issues and concerns of children with disability, girls, Dalit, linguistic and sexual minorities should be voiced and considered properly, and action plans should be charted out to resolve them systematically.
Parents also have a key role to contribute to creating an inclusive school environment. Specifically, parents should cooperate with schools and teachers to prepare individualised education plans (IEP) for children with disabilities. In addition, parents should communicate with schools about the special needs of their children including their children’s learning level and progress. In other words, parents should inform schools about the state of disability for their children and the type of support they need to improve overall condition including their learning outcome. In fact, parents should also support school authorities to identify types of children’s disability as it is the first major step to ensure their constitutional rights. In this way, parents and teachers need to have a good understanding and close cooperation for the overall development of school affairs.
Collective effort In conclusion, many issues should be considered, and multidimensional measures need to be adopted to create an inclusive school environment. The measures discussed above are just a few of them that could be implemented at the school level in cooperation with school stakeholders. In fact, school administrators, teachers, SMC and PTAs have major stakes in this regard. Additionally, local and provincial governments should cooperate, especially to provide required training to teachers on new methods and approaches of inclusive teaching and learning process. Therefore, stakeholders’ collective effort is a must and the first prerequisite to make a school inclusive for all the children.
(Budhathoki is a member of Lifelong Learning Mandala 2020, a loose forum of professional working in the education sector. firstname.lastname@example.org)