A focus on policy: Afghanistan

Parween Azimi

Two decades of war destroyed thousands of schools. The Ministry of Education (MoE) says hundreds of trained teachers emigrated or were killed. But education is seen as central to the modernisation of the Afghan state. "Equal access to quality education for all" is enshrined in the 2003 constitution and National Education Strategic Plan, 2006-10. Particular attention is paid to ethnic minorities and children identified as having special needs, and to compensating girls for discrimination during the Taliban era. Parween describes a recent initiative to include disabled children in mainstream schools in Kabul.

Challenges
The school enrolment rate for girls has risen from a little more then 0% in 2001 to 35% in 2006. In the 1990s a generation of children had little access to schooling. Now Afghanistan has one of the world's lowest literacy rates. The situation worsened when the Taliban outlawed the education of women and girls, although communities set up secret schools.

Enrolment targets are now 75% for boys and 60% for girls by 2015. Targets for disabled boys and girls are 45% and 30%, respectively. There has been a seven-fold increase in teacher numbers since 2001, but only 22% meet the national qualification grade.

A focus on policy and practice
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has helped to develop education policy and has worked with schools to increase accessibility for all children. UNDP has encouraged the enrolment of disabled boys and girls. Involving parents in their children's education and challenging negative attitudes about disability are vital aspects of work.

Three mainstream schools in Kabul were chosen to take part in a UNDPsupported programme which included 32 disabled learners (the programme is now also supported by UNICEF, UNESCO, UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan and the MoE). Parents and teachers were initially sceptical. Teachers liked the idea of inclusive education, but were unsure how it would work in reality. They thought extra resources would be required, and learners with intellectual impairments would be disruptive, bullied, and unable to learn.

Inclusive education is the only way to reach the 196,000 disabled children of school age.

Teacher-parent relations
A problem-solving approach meant parents and teachers worked together to analyse barriers faced by disabled children. Teachers learned more about medical aspects of disability. Parents of disabled children were visited by medical specialists and teachers with advice on supporting their children at home.

Teachers and parents were not used to collaborating. Parents saw no need to participate in their child's schooling and viewed teacher involvement in the community as intrusive. But they became more supportive when they saw the benefits of the programme. Co-operation became seen as crucial for success, as parents often had to go to great lengths to bring their children to school.

Promoting incluive classroom environments

Play was recognised as developing physical, social and intellectual capacity in all children.

Resource persons were trained by the MoE (supported by UNICEF) to facilitate understanding of inclusive education. Teacher training sought to challenge attitudes, encouraging difference to be valued and disabled children to be accepted in class. By evaluating their existing teaching methods, teachers discovered new educational approaches, e.g.:

Response to the programme
The final evaluation showed that:

Parween Azimi is the focal point for inclusive education at the Ministry of Education, through UNESCO Afghanistan. She can be contacted at: .

 


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