Prime Mia Minister Mottley, Education Minister Santia Bradshaw and the Cabinet have publicly committed to reforming the education sector to make it more fit for these modern times. This is undoubtedly necessary as the country attempts to compete in an ever-changing global environment, not to mention attempt to face and move beyond its developmental challenges.
Any true and meaningful exercise on educational reform needs to consider, center and address the realities of children with disabilities.
The participation of stakeholders who support the development of children with disabilities is also critical: educators, parents, students, advocates, psychologists and other experts. The process of deliberation and consultations should be allowed time, for that is what is required to make positive and sustainable change. To do anything else would be to unjustly affect different and unequal treatment, hold a swath of the nation’s students behind, as well as compromise national development.
The right to education is a well established human right as per Article 26 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Further, Barbados ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which obligates the country to “recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning.”
The above articles would suggest that the conversation about the improvement of education for children with disabilities is the bare minimum of what is an internationally recognized legal imperative.
The routine exclusion of persons with disabilities from discussions on issues that affect both us and the nation as a whole is undeniable. This practice in relation to education is particularly acute, and there is indeed a lot to talk about.
We need to talk about the resources available to students with disabilities. Are special units in primary schools sufficiently well staffed and resourced? Have all hurdles been removed for all students who attend special units and are academically competent to enter into mainstream secondary education? What is the position at the secondary level and do we currently contemplate a reality for a child with an intellectual challenge such that it does not prevent her from engaging academically? Does she receive what she needs – in-class assistance in a mainstream setting? What are the metrics of success for dedicated special environments and when last were they holistically evaluated? Is there a need for more institutions and of what kind?
The unwillingness of states to consider the realities of persons with disabilities and create open and accessible spaces and services for them has consequences not only for our societies, but it touches us at a deeply personal level, impacting not only what we think we can achieve but who we think we are.
Education is an imperative for each human being and the ability of the education system to adapt and respond to the country’s most vulnerable specifically, to perhaps make them less so, as well as provide the opportunity for them to contribute to national progress and development should be the goal of your government and for us all.
Andwele A.O.Boyce is a communications professional and a disability advocate with degrees in Mass Communications, Political Science, Law and International Trade Policy.