Swaziland
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WE NEED MORE THAN SPECIAL SCHOOLS

Sir,

Historically, children with intellectual disabilities have faced neglect in many aspects of life. They continue to experience exclusion from the education system and put in special schools which isolate them from their peers, families and communities. While their non-disabled counter-parts are being accommodated through various platforms such as the internet and media programmes, no one ever thinks about the education needs of these children. In particular, efforts to design accommodative learning tools and platforms to support these children to catch up with their learning have not been visible. Eswatini ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which set the normative standard for achieving inclusive education.

Excluded

Opposed to ‘special education’, inclusive education ensures that children with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system, including free primary education. The Special Education Policy 1999, Disability Policy and the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2018 indicate the country’s commitment to meet the education needs of children with disabilities.
Special schools such as Ekwetsembeni and St Joseph’s Mission are some of the institutions that have been recognised by government as providers of education for children with severe learning needs. But we need more than special schools.

Recognised

Children with intellectual disabilities deserve to be recognised and accommodated within the mainstream education system. They are not special, it’s just that they require us to understand them and accommodate their learning needs. As a postgraduate student on disability rights in Africa, I believe every day presents us with an opportunity to remove barriers that impede equal access for persons with disabilities. Government efforts towards inclusive education are very encouraging and have been recognised in different platforms such as the Universal Periodic Review in 2012. Even though the Ministry of Education and Training has acknowledged that there is a significant increase in the enrolment of children with disabilities since 2010, gaps still remain. Many children with intellectual disabilities are still hidden in homes in many rural parts of Eswatini. There is generally no reliable and accessible data on the number of children with disabilities accessing school in comparison to those who are excluded.

Also, parents and communities lack awareness on how to support the learning needs of their children, and there are no support structures to ensure the enrolment of children with disabilities within their communities. We need innovative approaches to ensure that the existing frameworks cater for the diverse needs of children, especially those with different learning needs. We should also leverage on the skills that exist to provide opportunities to teach parents to support the learning needs of their children with intellectual disabilities. Our education system must respond appropriately to the different needs of children with intellectual disabilities. No child should be left behind!