Inclusive Education through Community Development in Bangladesh

Nicolas Heeren

Salamanca stressed that inclusive education is not the task of the Ministries of Education and schools alone - it requires the co-operation of community and voluntary organisations. Since 1998, Handicap International (HI) and its local partners (including Christoffel Blinden Mission) have been implementing a new form of community-based rehabilitation, called 'Community Approaches to Handicap1 and Development' (CAHD) in Bangladesh and Nepal.

In this programme the partners work with more than a hundred local community development organisations (CDOs), normally active in mainstream development activities like micro-credit unions, women's groups, agricultural and rural development or slum work. CAHD believes that by working through existing mainstream CDOs, it will not only multiply the number of stakeholders and so increase impact, but also help work towards inclusion. In this way the disability issue is being taken up by organisations which formerly did not work in this field. Also, ideally, the disability issue is taken up, not as a separate line of action, but within existing activities.2

CAHD has a double objective:

It has been possible to include children with disabilities in the existing education system in an efficient and interesting manner through this approach.

An external evaluation showed that out of the CDOs participating in this work, two-thirds were indeed generalists with no specific activity for, or by, people with disabilities. The remaining third were disability-orientated organisations and disabled people's organisations (DPOs). It would seem to me that this ratio of two-thirds to one-third was a good mix ensuring that 'disability' remained the ultimate issue (under close scrutiny by the DPOs), while the majority of generalist CDOs brought in new ideas, greater impact and greater inclusion potentially for people with disabilities within the mainstream activities of these CDOs.

Specific training modules, with each module being aimed at different target groups, is the core of this programme. Training starts with the CDO managers. They need to be sensitised first, if inclusion of disability in their programmes is to have any success. This is a crucial stage in inclusive strategies. Without the managers’ active participation no real inclusion can take place. Other modules focus more on community-based rehabilitation skills and on inclusion.

To put it simply, the staff members of these CDOs ask themselves the question: "Do people with disabilities in the communities where we work benefit from our mainstream development activities?" If the answer is negative, then this exclusion is challenged and work towards an inclusive approach is implemented.

Working through the existing staff of the CDOs does not involve any extra cost, and CAHD benefits from their community work skills, and their community connections and knowledge. This proved to be a good choice. For example, in the case of getting disabled children into school (not having been there before), or back into school (after dropping out), intensive work often has to be done with the local school teacher, the parents of the child, and with the other children and parents in the school. A community worker, with good 'community communication' skills, who is already well accepted as part of the community, will obviously have less difficulty in creating awareness.

HI and its partners have been able to include more than 1,000 children with disabilities in the existing school system in Bangladesh alone. HI is considering using the CAHD principle in other countries, notably in Africa, and applying the same methodology in its work on HIV/AIDS.

Nick Heeren is HI's Director of Programmes.
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1 Handicap' in French is less negative than in English. It entered the French language in 1827 through horse-racing. Jockeys on stronger horses raced with one 'hand in (their) cap' and one on the reins, making the race more difficult for them. In English, by contrast, it is associated with begging with 'cap in hand'.
2 Evaluation showed that a number of organisations began disability activities with specifically-appointed staff - but did not necessarily open up their other activities to people with disabilities. The added value - through inclusion in mainstream activities - was not really attained.

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