Mainstreaming Disability-Inclusive Education: A Requirement, Not a Request
At Light for the World South Sudan, 25-year-old Esther Piro, a South Sudanese disability rights activist, advocate, and trainer with a hearing impairment, serves as a Disability Inclusion Facilitator in her community. Through this role, Esther works to mainstream disability inclusive aid program practices throughout in-country organizations, in particular, those delivering education services. As a fluent sign language communicator, she also teaches sign language and provides disability awareness training for both current primary school teachers and teachers-in-training. To date, she has trained teachers in sign language and disability awareness at two teacher training colleges supported by Strømme Foundation. Organizations of persons with disabilities - including ones that Esther works with - are truly transforming the ways that humanitarian and education actors deliver life-saving, disability-inclusive support to children in South Sudan.
Esther’s advocacy for quality, disability inclusive education is deeply connected to her own journey as a student with a disability. In 2005, Esther relocated from South Sudan to Uganda to begin her studies. However, high costs associated with school prevented Esther from finishing her secondary education in 2012. When she returned to South Sudan shortly thereafter, Esther quickly found it extremely challenging to continue her education, given that South Sudan, at the time, did not have schools that were accessible for students with hearing impairments.
As a former student growing up with a disability, Esther’s story echoes that of the over 240 million students with disabilities around the world who are far too often left behind in education systems (UNICEF, 2021). According to a 2021 report by UNICEF, students with disabilities around the world are 47 percent more likely to be out of primary school, 33 percent more likely to be out of lower-secondary school and 27 percent more likely to be out of upper secondary school compared to their peers without disabilities. South Sudan, which is experiencing a protracted humanitarian crisis including violence, severe food insecurity, and displacement, has one of the highest rates of out-of-school children in the world (Global Partnership for Education, 2022). Almost three-fourths of these out-of-school children in South Sudan are children with disabilities (Light For the World). For deaf and visually impaired South Sudanese communities, a shortage of trained interpreters further exacerbates barriers to accessible public information on disability-inclusive education resources and services.
Looking Ahead to Transforming Education Through Disability Inclusion
As part of efforts to address barriers to disability inclusion in education, the Government of South Sudan launched its National Disability Inclusive Education Policy in 2021, providing a framework for the country’s inclusive education programs and policies. In outlining key policy standards on inclusive learning environments, curriculum and assessments, teacher training, school leadership, and community-wide support, this framework aims to achieve a vision for “barrier-free access to quality education” (Ministry of General Education and Instruction, 2021). Despite these laudable advancements in policy, two million students with disabilities in South Sudan continue to remain out of school in 2022; a vast majority of which are girls and young women with disabilities (Acuil, Deng Bayut via David Elly, Bia, 2021.).
At the global level, disability inclusive education advocates from around the world took the stage at the United Nations Transforming Education Summit (TES) to proclaim that disability-inclusive education is essential to transforming education. To start off the TES Solutions Day on 17 September, comedian, author, and disability inclusive education advocate, Maysoon Zayid started off the TES Solutions Day with a powerful statement: “children of all abilities can excel.” In the latter half of the day, Light for the World, Government of Sierra Leone, Government of South Africa, Global Campaign for Education, International Disability Alliance, International Disability and Development Consortium, Humanity & Inclusion, Sightsavers, Perkins School for the Blind, Leonard Chesire, GLAD Network, Christian Blind Mission, UNICEF, World Bank, ANCEFA, led the Transforming Commitments into Real Solutions Day session. This session featured a powerful, dynamic panel discussion on new commitments and tools that aim to transform education systems through disability inclusion. In case you missed it, we encourage you to watch the recording (2:53:00 - 4:27:00) of this session and sign on to the Transforming Education for Disability Inclusion: A Call to Action for All Children.
As the global community looks to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) by 2030, Esther powerfully reminds us that achieving SDG4 is impossible without actively including children with disabilities in national and international education commitments. That is why now more than ever, governments, civil society, donors and other key stakeholders must join Esther and other disability-inclusive education advocates in solidarity by actively prioritizing students with disabilities as both beneficiaries and partners in policies, budgets, and programs. In Esther’s words, disability-inclusive education is a requirement, not a request.