FACTSHEET: Inclusive Education for Persons Living with Disability in Gambia

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Photo taken from africalaw.com

By Jankey Ceesay

Inclusive education is “when all students, regardless of any challenges they may have, are placed in age-appropriate general education classes that are in their own neighborhood schools to receive high-quality instruction, interventions, and supports that enable them to meet success in the core curriculum.”

In The Gambia, 7.9% of the population (over 208,000 people) suffer from some kind of disability or condition that makes everyday life, work and interaction with society a difficult.

Without a proper education or career prospects, people living with disabilities in The Gambia are unlikely to fully integrate into society or earn good wages, landing them at further risk of exclusion and poverty.

Recently, there have been various developments that may make life easier for those living with disabilities in The Gambia, both from the Gambian government and from private companies – thanks to a  National Disability Study commissioned by UNICEF in collaboration with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE).

The report updated information available on children with disabilities in the light of prevailing sociocultural, legislative and national development contexts.

The Government of The Gambia carried out a national disability survey in 1998, which revealed that the overall disability prevalence rate was 1.6 per cent, with the child disability rate at 9.9 per 1000 and the prevalence rate for boys and girls was 11.2 and 8.5 per cent respectively.

The study also provided information on the types of disability among children in mainstream schools, the challenges they faced and their coping strategies. The study revealed that out of the sample of children with disabilities in the mainstream classrooms 25.7 per cent were partially sighted; 12.3 per cent had significant speech difficulties; 8.9percent had mobility challenges, 5.4 per cent were hard of hearing and 3.7 per cent had significant manipulation and fits problems.

Some of the major constraints affecting the mainstreaming of person with disabilities in schools were inadequate technical aid, few disability friendly games, and limited financial resources and scholarships. Other important findings were inaccessible physical facilities, few qualified teachers and inadequate learning and instructional materials.

BARRIERS FOR PWDs

  1. Lack of Accessibility: many schools in the Gambia may not have the necessary infrastructures or resource to accommodate the specific needs of students with disability.

“The school structures are built in a way that persons with disabilities are not catered for. If you are a wheelchair user, you will not be able to access the classroom because of how they are structured and that amounts to the denial of inclusive education for persons with disabilities,” the Chairman of the Gambia Federation of the Disabled, Muhammed Krubally, has said.

“It is pertinent to have accessibility features for persons with disabilities.”

  1. Negative Attitude and Stigma: students with disabilities face discrimination, stereotypes, and stigma from their peers or even teachers, which can affect their self-esteem and overall educational experience.
  2. Limited Support Services: inclusive education requires specialized support services, such as assistive devices, trained, and individualized learning plans. However, these services may be lacking or sufficient in schools in the country.
  3. Social Isolation: student with disabilities may experience social isolation and exclusion from their peers due to barriers in communication, physical accessibility, or lack of understanding.

STRATEGIES FOR INCLUSIVE EDUCATION FOR PWDs

The 1997 Constitution of the Republic Gambia as amended in 2000 enshrines the right to free, compulsory and available basic education to all (Section 30[a]). Secondary education, including technical and vocational education, is made ‘generally available and accessible to all … by the progressive introduction to free education’ (b), as is higher education (c).

It further mandates the state to provide adequate education opportunities across all levels (Section 217[1]) and to allocate adequate resources (2). It also contains a non-discrimination provision, addressing discrimination on the grounds of ‘race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’ (Section 33[4]).

As made explicit in the Constitution, persons with disabilities are protected against exploitation and discrimination with particular regards to access to education (Section 31[2]).

In 2009, an Integrated National Disability Policy was drafted which is out of date, but it was not adopted by the Department of State for Health and Social Welfare. With reference to education, it built on the education policy and announced the need to adopt a special needs education policy to coordinate and organize special needs education. The cited policy was then adopted, broadening its scope to integrate inclusive education.

Based on the principles of inclusiveness, integration and participation, the 2004 to 2015 education policy marked a transformation in the promotion of special needs education, calling for the adoption of a holistic inclusive approach in education provision.

Against this backdrop, the policy aimed to strengthen special needs assessment to determine appropriate health and education interventions and intended to include special needs learners, but not children with severe disabilities, whose education is provided in special schools.

Among its priorities, the education policy further aimed to provide relevant preschool programs to children with special needs, including health care, protection, and social and emotional stimulation.

With a specific focus on special needs and inclusive education, the 2009–15 Special Needs Education and Inclusive Policy Framework collects and rationalizes in a single document the existing legal and policy frameworks. Within the new framework, specific programs have been adopted, such as the Integrated Education Programs for Blind and Low Vision Children.

SOME PROGRESS

In August 2021, the most important piece of disability legislation in Gambian history entered into force following over a decade of support. The Persons with Disability law provides essential health care and social services for disabled people in The Gambia.

Welcomed by the Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD) whose chairperson praised the bill for allowing disabled Gambians to hold the government accountable where previously they had neglected the disabled community.

By upholding the rights of disabled people in The Gambia, the law not only promotes the social inclusion of those who had previously felt isolated from wider society but also supports The Gambia’s international commitment to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The law provides the Gambian government with a crucial instrument that can be used for the advancement of disabled people in Gambian society, guaranteeing them the legal right to education, health care and work.

The Gambia is challenged with including PWDs in the education system or it failed to design the education system for disabled pupils.

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