Investing in Inclusion: The Imperative For Nepal's Educational Future

Author: Nir Shrestha - Contact: Contact Details
Published: 2023/12/01
Publication Type: Paper / Essay - Peer-Reviewed: N/A
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: Paper by Nir Shrestha delves into the critical voids within inclusive education, emphasizing its urgent necessity. The vision of inclusive education, where every child can easily access education in their local school, remains elusive as public schools in proximity to their homes lack the necessary arrangements. While there have been policy initiatives and advocacy efforts, skepticism persists regarding the feasibility of inclusive education, especially for children with intellectual disabilities, autism, and deafness. In addition, the shortage of tactile materials and teacher training poses significant barriers to grasping the intricacies of subjects like science, economics, and mathematics.

Nepal

Nepal, officially The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked country in South Asia. Kathmandu is the nation's capital and the largest city. Nepal is mainly situated in the Himalayas but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, bordering China's Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and India to the south, east, and west. At the same time, it is narrowly separated from Bangladesh by the Siliguri Corridor and from Bhutan by the Indian state of Sikkim. Nepal has a diverse geography, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Nepal is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, and multi-cultural state, with Nepali as the official language.

Main Digest

Education, an influential catalyst for societal progress, stands as a cornerstone of evolution and a vital measure of societal inclusivity. Nevertheless, envision a scenario where entrenched attitudes, systemic barriers, and limited access to educational resources create an alarming disparity, leading to the exclusion of certain segments, notably individuals with disabilities, from achieving their educational potential. In this article, I will delve into the critical voids within inclusive education, emphasizing its urgent necessity. Drawing upon my personal experiences, I will illustrate the hurdles I encountered during my academic journey to shed light on these pressing concerns.

Nepal

Nepal, on its progressive journey, has taken bold strides to ensure the universal right to education, extending its commitment to persons with disabilities both nationally and internationally. Education, the fundamental right of every child, finds its constitutional sanctuary in Article 31 of Nepal's 2072 Constitution, where basic education is not only declared free but also mandatory, while secondary education is made accessible without cost. Furthermore, the legal framework extends to the provision of free higher education for children with disabilities.

In its dedication to upholding global standards, Nepal ratified both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These international commitments underscore Nepal's pledge to advance education on a broader scale. Aligned with the ambitious fourth goal of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims for quality education, Nepal has set a comprehensive framework of indicators and corresponding programs. Despite these commendable efforts, a troubling reality persists: more than one-third of Nepal's children with disabilities remain without access to education. Those who do attend school often encounter formidable obstacles, impeding their access to quality education. This stark disparity between intent and implementation remains a pressing challenge for Nepal's education system.

To delve deeper into this, I'd like to share my personal journey. My formal education began at the age of seven, albeit not in my hometown, but in the capital, where a school with a blind resource class could accommodate me. In a matter of months, I learned Braille and quickly became proficient in reading. As a result, I was integrated into a regular class with my sighted peers in the following academic year. From the fourth grade onward, I consistently ranked at the top of my class. However, this achievement was the culmination of strong determination, the support of my friends, and the invaluable guidance from my dedicated teachers. Yet, my path was anything but smooth.

One of the most significant challenges during my school years was the scarcity of educational materials and textbooks. The absence of Braille paper made taking notes, completing assignments, and engaging in various exercises an arduous task. To practice mathematical calculations, I had to resort to folding old notebook pages to achieve the thickness required for Braille writing. Braille textbooks were a luxury we rarely had access to. Sometimes, two of us had to share a single set of books, and subjects like Computer Science and Economics had no Braille materials at all. Essential resources like solution books, practice books, and question sets were also conspicuously absent in Braille format. Consequently, I either relied on my classmates to read textbooks to me or depended on the notes provided by my teachers during lectures.

Crucially, the shortage of tactile materials and teacher training posed significant barriers to grasping the intricacies of subjects like science, economics, and mathematics. I couldn't participate in practical experiments, which were essential components of science and computer science courses. Despite the availability of computers at the school, they remained unused. Even when I began taking exams with the assistance of a scribe in the fifth grade, challenges persisted. Finding a reliable scribe during exams was difficult, and their writing often fell short of my expectations, hindering my performance.

These challenges highlighted here represent just a fraction of the myriad issues that continue to plague the educational journey of children with visual disabilities today. The dire shortage of Braille materials persists, albeit with some modest improvements facilitated by various organizations. While certain resource schools have taken the initiative to introduce computer training, many remain devoid of such provisions. Teacher orientation remains a critical gap, with educators often ill-prepared to instruct visually impaired students effectively. Neglect in the development of tactile reference materials for subjects like science and mathematics, coupled with the lack of orientation for subject teachers, impedes the academic progress of individuals with visual disabilities in these areas.

The vision of inclusive education, where every child can easily access education in their local school, remains elusive as public schools in proximity to their homes lack the necessary arrangements. Consequently, visually impaired, deaf, intellectually disabled, and severely physically challenged children are compelled to study in hostels far from their families. School infrastructure largely fails to accommodate the needs of all children, particularly in sports and extracurricular activities. Fundamental elements like early identification, a robust support system, continuous assessment, and a teaching approach based on the principles of a universal framework of learning have seen minimal advancement.

The prevailing misconception that educating children with disabilities necessitates separate teachers, classes, teaching methods, and schools still prevails, hindering the promotion of inclusive education in public schools. While there have been policy initiatives and advocacy efforts, skepticism persists regarding the feasibility of inclusive education, especially for children with intellectual disabilities, autism, and deafness. Bridging the gap necessitates not only policy clarity but also human and financial resources, along with enhanced physical infrastructure.

Local governments, tasked with overseeing secondary education, must prioritize inclusive education in their political agenda. This entails developing the professional skills of existing teachers and recruiting specialized individuals like itinerant teachers, assistant teachers, interpreters, therapists, and social workers. Concurrently, physical structures and infrastructure should undergo necessary enhancements to maximize accessibility.

While the initial costs of inclusive education may appear daunting, its long-term social, economic, and political benefits far outweigh the price of exclusion. Integrating disabled children into regular classrooms narrows the divide between disabled and non-disabled peers, fostering socialization and independent living for people with disabilities.

Hence, it is incumbent upon us, from our respective spheres, to champion quality and inclusive education for children with disabilities. By addressing these key aspects, we can not only fulfill our national and international pledges but also provide centuries-excluded children and individuals with disabilities the opportunity to experience equality and coexistence. The cost of exclusion is immeasurable, and it is our moral imperative to invest in inclusion, for the dividends it pays in human potential and societal progress are boundless.

Nir Shrestha

I am Nir Shrestha, a passionate youth and disability rights advocate, currently serving as a Program Officer at the Blind Youth Association Nepal. I am pursuing a master's degree in Conflict, Peace, and Development Studies at Tribhuvan University. My activism spans disability inclusion, digital accessibility, youth leadership, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

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