Disability and education: let’s not leave anyone behind (Ecuador y Bolivia)

Monteserín © Photo

«My son was born on a Thursday, and the next day, Friday, the doctors made me sign a possible autopsy report in case he died over the weekend. Such was his degree of malformation that they did not give him any hope of life. However, Alexander is now 6 years old and, despite some physical limitations, he is a completely normal child, integrated into regular school. He studies Basic Education at Fe y Alegría and dreams of becoming a president, sometimes a fireman or a doctor», says Veronica Ortiz, Alexander’s mother.

“Alexander is now 6 years old and, despite some physical limitations, he is a completely normal child, integrated into regular school”

Many families do not know or do not have a clear diagnosis of their children’s disability, which creates false expectations or underestimates their children’s abilities. That was the case with Alexander, who, until the year he was born, no one knew what was wrong with him. He was finally diagnosed with Nager Syndrome which, despite the physical problems it entails, does not affect the psychic development of the patients in any way.

Many families do not know or do not have a clear diagnosis of their children’s disability, which creates false expectations or underestimates their children’s abilities

The lack of knowledge and the fear of not knowing how to interact with people with disabilities is what generates rejection and exclusion. «My son, when they see him walking crookedly, with his short arm and his harelip, is immediately seen as a freak», says Veronica, «but thanks to Fe y Alegria and the confidence and professionalism of the whole teaching team, my son was able to show that he was just another student, with some special logistical needs, but able to follow the level of his classmates».

Currently, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that there are one billion people with disabilities in the world (about 15% of the world’s population). Around 93 million, according to UNICEF estimates, are children. It is true that many advances and standards at the international level have regulated and defended the right to education of all children, regardless of the functional diversities they may have, but their opportunities to access education, to remain in the system and to progress according to their needs are fewer in practically any part of the world.

The 2018 UN Report on Disability and Development reveals that, on average, 1 in 3 children with disabilities in the primary school age is not in school, compared to 1 in 7 children without disabilities. This trend is also reflected in the lower literacy rate of persons with disabilities: 54 per cent compared to 77 per cent of persons without disabilities. There is, therefore, still a long way to go.

For a truly inclusive education

At the UNESCO International Forum on Inclusion and Equity in Education, held in Colombia last September, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, stated that «it is not possible to talk about sustainable development without giving every child the opportunity to discover their talents and transform their lives. And that is also the line taken by Fe y Alegría, a partner in the EPGO Programme projects that focus on the educational inclusion of people with disabilities in Ecuador (one of whose participants is Alexander) and Bolivia.

Fe y Alegría understands diversity as a richness and works to guarantee the right to a quality education for all, including people with disabilities. It has a management model that focuses on the responsibilities of the inclusion process in the educational centre (whether it is a special education centre or a regular education centre), so that it is the centre that progressively takes on its responsibilities and duties in terms of inclusion. To this end, it puts at its disposal a multidisciplinary team (clinical psychologist, educational psychologist, social worker, speech therapist, etc.) which, together with the person responsible for educational inclusion, is in charge of transferring the necessary knowledge and tools to the teaching staff. On the other hand, the strategy also involves working in parallel with families and students, both those with and without disabilities. The idea is to encourage mutual discovery, acceptance and adaptation so that inclusion is progressive and does not generate frustration or rejection.

The projects of the EPGO Programme

Both in Ecuador and Bolivia, Entreculturas and Inditex support the work of Fe y Alegría in the lines of inclusive education for children and young people with disabilities, and of labour insertion and technical-labour training of young people and adults with disabilities who are without employment and in a situation of exclusion.

Through these projects promoted in the EPGO Programme, training is also carried out so that the teaching staff can improve their human and pedagogical capacities and thus better accompany their students, and activities are carried out to raise awareness and improve the skills of coexistence for the families.

In Ecuador, 296 children have already been included in basic education, 153 students with severe and multiple disabilities have been trained in specialized education centres, 350 people have been made aware of diversity, and 87 teachers have been trained in diversity and inclusion. And, in Bolivia, 517 students with disabilities have access to basic education, 276 complete it, and 778 teachers improve their human and pedagogical skills to serve people with disabilities.

«Fe y Alegría understands diversity as a richness and works to guarantee the right to a quality education for all, including people with disabilities»