The journey towards inclusive education in Myanmar

Mari Koistinen and Tha Uke

For decades Myanmar was under military rule and disability issues have received limited attention. Myanmar has been opening up since 2011, and there is now growing interest in education for disabled children. The country has had a policy on inclusive education since 2004 - influenced by the global Education for All goals and aiming to provide disabled children with education in mainstream schools - but the level of implementation has not been well documented. However, some developments are taking place. The Eden Centre for Disabled Children (ECDC), for instance, has been a vocal advocate for inclusive education in Myanmar. In this article, Tha Uke and Mari provide an overview of ECDC's work, successes and challenges.

Background
ECDC is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) for children with physical and intellectual impairments, established in April 2000 by Mr Tha Uke and Ms Lilian Gyi. Over the years the organisation has grown to meet the needs of service users. It now offers a wide range of activities including early intervention programmes, special education, counselling, physiotherapy and occupational therapy services, and inclusive education.

ECDC's work
Tha Uke has been advocating for inclusive education in Myanmar for many years. With funding from Welthungerhilfe, an international NGO from Germany, ECDC was able to start an inclusive education project in 2007, with the aim of promoting and advocating for inclusive education in Myanmar. The project has worked to increase access of disabled children to mainstream schools in 10 townships in Yangon Division. The work has focused on providing facilities and a barrier-free environment, and on raising awareness of disability and inclusion.

ECDC has successfully conducted awareness-raising and experience-sharing workshops on inclusive education and disability for education sector personnel including: principals, Township Education Officers, teachers from special and mainstream schools, and officers from Department of Social Welfare which is in charge of the few existing special schools. Workshops have been held at least once a year over the last four years. The project has also distributed learning materials and assistive and mobility devices to children.

Leading the way

Maung Saing Win Htay has physical disabilities and is one of the beneficiaries of the inclusive education project. The project arranged disability- specific support and adjustments, such as providing a wheelchair, renovating the school walkway, and installing an appropriate toilet seat to make the sanitation facilities accessible. The project also supported visits to the community health clinic if Maung Saing Win Htay was unwell. In addition the project sought to make school and community-wide changes, by raising awareness of inclusive education among teachers, students, parents and community leaders. These various approaches enabled Maung Saing Win Htay to access and remain in school, when he might otherwise have had to stay at home. Maun Saing Win Htay's is now considered an agent for change for other disabled children in his community, having been the first child using a wheelchair to attending a mainstream school. This is no longer considered unusual in the community, and his teachers have learned a great deal about disabilities and are ready to welcome other children with disabilities into school.

Focus for future work
One of the biggest challenges ECDC faces is the general lack of understanding about inclusive education among most education stakeholders, including policy-makers. There is an urgent need for greater awareness raising and advocacy at all levels. ECDC believes inclusive education should be part of teacher training (both pre- and in-service) and offer teachers practical advice on how to teach disabled children. Strengthening the multi-sectoral approach is vital, as is including all stakeholders in the process - a special focus on family members' involvement is crucial.

Contact:
Tha Uke, co-founder and Managing Director of ECDC

Mari Koistinen, consultant on disability issues in Myanmar

Eden Centre for Disabled Children
No. (56), Wa Oo 4th Street,
Phawhkan Insein Township, Yangon, Myanmar

 


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