Nepal: Barriers to Inclusive Education

Segregation, Lack of Accessibility for Children with Disabilities


Children with disabilities in Nepal face serious obstacles to quality, inclusive education, Human Rights Watch said on September 13, 2018.

Despite progress in law and policy, the government segregates most children with disabilities into separate classrooms. It has yet to train teachers to provide inclusive education, in which children with and without disabilities learn together. Tens of thousands of children with disabilities remain out of school.

“Despite several new policies to promote disability rights, including for access to education, many children with disabilities in Nepal are not getting a quality, inclusive education,” said Alpana Bhandari, disability rights fellow at Human Rights Watch. “Public schools should provide adequate support for children with disabilities to learn in classrooms with other children and not segregate them.”

Based on research conducted in May 2018 in 13 public schools in five districts across Nepal, Human Rights Watch found that segregating children with and without disabilities has denied many children with disabilities their right to education. Human Rights Watch interviewed 80 children with disabilities, their families, representatives of organizations for people with disabilities, teachers, principals, government officials, and United Nations staff.

This research builds on the August 2011 Human Rights Watch report “Futures Stolen: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Nepal,” which found many children with disabilities in Nepal faced barriers in accessing schools and obtaining a quality education. Since that time, Nepal has improved laws and policies regarding access to education for children with disabilities, and some children have benefited. Thousands of children with disabilities continue to face significant obstacles to education, however.

Based on UN and World Health Organization estimates, Nepal has 60,000 to 180,000 children ages 5 to 14 with disabilities. In a 2011 report, Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 207,000 children in Nepal have a disability. In 2016, UNICEF found that 30.6 percent of children with disabilities, or approximately 15,000 to 56,000 children, ages 5 to 12, did not attend school.

Very few mainstream public schools enroll children with disabilities. Out of more than 30,000 schools in Nepal, just 380 have what they call “resource classes,” where children with a particular disability, such as children who are blind or who have an intellectual disability, are grouped with others with a similar disability. In the schools Human Rights Watch visited, children in resource classes ranged in age from 7 to 17, with some even in their 20s. Children often remain in these classes for years, although some may move to mainstream classrooms in the higher grades, with limited support.

Nepal has no academic curriculum for children with intellectual disabilities, including children with Down Syndrome. Those who do attend school learn only basic skills, largely focused on self-care. Denying education based on a child’s disability is discriminatory, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2010, Nepal ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which guarantees the right to inclusive, quality education. Children with and without disabilities should learn together in classrooms with adequate support in an inclusive environment. Research shows that an inclusive approach can boost learning for all students and combat harmful stereotypes of people with disabilities.

“Sunita,” 15, who is deaf, attends a resource classroom in a public school in Lalitpur. “I have never been to a regular class,” she said. “I want to learn together with others. It is more fun learning together with friends.”

Most mainstream schools visited also lack teachers trained in how to use accessible learning materials, such as braille and audio equipment, and how to make testing accessible. The classrooms lack accessible infrastructure.

A principal at a public mainstream school in the Gorkha district in western Nepal said that one former student with a physical disability crawled on his hands and knees to get from one classroom to another for the seven years he attended the school, because the school was not wheelchair accessible.

Since 2011, the Nepali government has introduced reforms to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities and to expand educational opportunity. The 2015 constitution says that education is a fundamental right and provides for free and compulsory primary education and free secondary education, as well as the right to free education through braille and sign language.

In 2017, Nepal adopted the Disability Rights Act and an Inclusive Education Policy for Persons with Disabilities. The policy says that children should be able to study, without discrimination, in their own communities, but also allows educating for children with disabilities separately.

The government is also developing an inclusive education master plan to create disability-friendly educational infrastructure and facilities, improve teacher training, and develop a flexible curriculum by 2030. However, the government has yet to articulate in law or policy a clear understanding of what quality, inclusive education in line with international standards requires and how to provide it.

Nepal’s major education reform, the School Sector Development Plan for 2016 to 2023, covers pre-school through high school education. The budget for the first five years is estimated at US$6.46 billion. Eleven percent of the cost is provided by international donors, including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and the European Union. The program builds on a previous reform plan, which the government acknowledged did not do enough to ensure education for children with disabilities.

The government should ensure schools are accessible for all children, children with disabilities are taught in mainstream classrooms, and all teachers are trained to provide inclusive education, Human Rights Watch said.

The government should also provide reasonable accommodations to support individual learning. This can include braille textbooks, audio, video, and easy-to-read learning materials; instruction in sign language for children with hearing disabilities; and staff to assist children with self-care, behavior, or other support needed in the classroom.

“Nepal’s government and its international partners have made education a clear priority, including for children with disabilities, but they need to do much more to make this vision a reality,” Bhandari said. “Support for children to study in mainstream classrooms, teacher training, and a flexible curriculum are essential to make sure children with disabilities aren’t left behind.”

Source:Human Rights Watch