UNICEF promotes inclusive education
By Noreen Chambers
Elementary student, David Ezarete sits in his wheel chair in the middle of his elementary class unfazed by a group of visitors who have just entered his classroom.
He stares straight ahead and says nothing. His classmates, clustered on the floor around him, whisper excitedly amongst themselves and throw curious glances at the visitors, a team of UNICEF staff who are visiting the school.
David doesn’t know his exact birthday but he thinks he is nine years old. His life has been confined to a wheel chair for the past four years since he fell off a tree while playing and hurt himself. He looks a little older than his classmates but that’s because his condition prevented him from starting school at the right age of six.
“I was born ok but when I fell off the tree, I became very ill and couldn’t walk again. At first my parents didn’t want to send me to school because I am in a wheel chair and they were afraid I might get hurt at school. But now, I am happy that I’ve started school here where I am taken care of,” a shy David explains in tok pisin.
David started elementary classes at the Mt. Zion School for the Blind in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province in early 2012. The Mt. Zion School is one of 26 special education resource centres (SERC) in Papua New Guinea that provides a learning environment for children with disabilities. SERCs are inclusive centres managed by a faith based organization, Callan Services National Unit (CSNU), a UNICEF partner, that provides learning opportunities for physically challenged children.
The provision of inclusive education in the country in general is limited. A major contributing factor for this is that there is a limited number of teaching staff in the country with knowledge and skills on special education needs. The Department of Education depends on CSNU to provide training and related teaching and learning material.
But the situation is slowly starting to change. UNICEF is supporting the Department of Education to increase access to education for children with various forms of learning challenges and also improve the quality of inclusive education services at elementary level and is also helping to build the capacity of teaching staff.
Already with UNICEF support, 36 teaching staff of 17 of the 26 SERCs have been trained to address early intervention on learning needs of children with disabilities. These staff are trained to perform ear and eye screening in schools and initial centre-based rehabilitation responses with those screened, and to make referrals as required. They are also learning to practice care, safety and protection for children particularly vulnerable due to disability.
David likes going to school. His best friend, Leon Keso who helps David go to and from school is quick to point out that David is just another classmate. “He’s my class mate and I like helping him. It’s easy for me to push David around because there are places where I can push the wheel chair easily,” Keso explains.
UNICEF is supporting a baseline survey that will be done in 2013 to assess the age range of children with different types of disabilities attending mainstream education and SERCs in eight selected provinces. This baseline study will provide useful information that will determine the strategic interventions needed.
For now David is happy. He is being provided with the care, safety and protection he needs at school and he says he would like to be a teacher when he grows up so he can teach children who are like him.