Separate and Unequal Education in Nepal

ICRI has been working in Nepal for over a decade.  In our projects focusing on education, health, and children's rights we have seen incredible challenges facing disabled Nepali children and families.

Our National Center for Learning Resources program serves a number of schools where students have physical disabilities.  Our team has been able to effectively advocate for simple accommodations to allow these children to be integrated into the school with their peers.

As a new report from Human Rights Watch documents, however, many disabled Nepali children continue to be isolated and excluded from the country's educational system.

(August 24, 2011) – Children with disabilities in Nepal face diverse and imposing barriers to getting a basic education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Schools are physically inaccessible, teachers are inadequately trained, and some children with disabilities are unjustly denied admission to neighborhood schools, Human Rights Watch found.

The 76-page report, “Futures Stolen: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Nepal,” documents the hurdles that children with disabilities face in obtaining a quality education in Nepal. Some children with disabilities experience abuse and neglect at home and in their communities, making it harder for them to gain access to schooling. These barriers result in low attendance and high dropout rates for children with disabilities compared with their non-disabled peers.

“Tens of thousands of children with disabilities in Nepal are being shut out from or neglected by the school system,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “TheNepalese education system needs to offer appropriate, quality education to all children, including those with disabilities.”

The Human Rights Watch report was based on interviews with nearly 100 disability advocates, teachers, government officials, and children or young people with disabilities and their families.

One of the children Human Rights Watch interviewed was 16-year-old Amman, who lives in the far-western region of Nepal. Because the local school entrance has two steep steps and no ramps, Amman has to crawl to reach his classroom. He cannot use the toilet without assistance and gets no support from school staff, so he either has to wait until he gets home, or another child has to run home to fetch his mother to assist him. Other children in the classroom are afraid to sit near him, so he sits alone in the corner.

Education Ministry officials acknowledge that a significant number of the more than 329,000 primary school aged children who are out of school in Nepal are children with disabilities. The government promotes an inclusive education policy, requiring communities to provide education to all children without discrimination. But many children with disabilities are not provided the support they need to attend community schools, and many schools are unprepared to teach children with disabilities.

Research shows that an inclusive approach to education can boost learning for all students and combat harmful stereotypes of people with disabilities. However, the government of Nepal relies upon segregated, and often inferior, classes for children with disabilities, and separate schools for children who have physical, sensory, or intellectual disabilities.

Many children with disabilities were turned away from schools entirely, Human Rights Watch found. More than half of the families with children with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that their children were denied admission to schools, both public and private. Many parents were not aware that their children had the right to attend school.

International donors and United Nations agencies are seemingly aware of the lack of targeted efforts to ensure that children with disabilities are in school. But they have not done enough to ensure that funding for education is distributed without discrimination and equitably benefits children with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said.

“As funding pours into Education For All programs in Nepal, the government, the UN and international donors need to make sure that children with disabilities are not excluded,” Barriga said. “The government and its partners need to have a clear plan for integrating children with disabilities, particularly intellectual or developmental disabilities, into mainstream schools.”

The curriculum in Nepal’s schools does not take into account differences in learning ability, so children with disabilities who are in mainstream schools repeatedly fail and are more likely to repeat a grade. One 15-year-old boy with a psychosocial disability told Human Rights Watch, “I spent three years in Class 1, then three years in Class 2, then one year in Class 3. But I don’t know the alphabet. The teacher just wrote my exams. That’s why I passed.”

As a result of the lack of educational options for some children with disabilities, lack of information about options, and schools’ refusals to admit children with disabilities, some parents said they saw no choice but to lock their children with disabilities in a room or tie them to a post.

The mother of one young boy with a developmental disability told Human Rights Watch, “I offer food and bring him tea. If he does toilet in the room, I clean it up. I have to take care of the whole house; I can’t just look after him. If I spend the whole day with him, my other child will miss his bus, everything will be in disarray.” She lets her son out of the room once or twice a day to see the sun.

The government of Nepal should revise teacher training materials, train all teachers about inclusive education methods, and improve monitoring of access to and the effectiveness of education for children with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said. The government and donors, working together, need to develop awareness-raising and educational campaigns about the right to education and other rights of people with disabilities. Parliament, in consultation with disabled peoples’ organizations, should comprehensively review all domestic legislation and make amendments to comply fully with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Human Rights Watch said.

While it will take time for the school system to become fully inclusive of all children, the government needs to take steps toward this goal, Human Rights Watch said.

For example, the government needs to rethink the use of special resource classes, which are intended as a transition to mainstream schools but which effectively perpetuate segregation. Children in these classes range in age from 6 to 17, with some even in their 20s, and children often remain in these classes for years.

“Nepal needs to honor its obligations to protect the right of all children with disabilities to be educated in a safe, accessible, and non-discriminatory environment,” Barriga said. “Children with disabilities should not be left behind, locked up, or shut out from school and learning.”

- Human Rights Watch press release, 8/24/2011