This article has been published in Enabling Education 9
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Title: Challenges in Paradise: Inclusive education in the south Pacific
Author: McCullough, R
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2005

Challenges in Paradise: Inclusive Education in the South Pacific

Rebekah McCullough

There are many challenges in the islands of the South Pacific: isolation, lack of access, little or no resources, lack of information and training. However the focus on Education for All is a goal that cannot be ignored now that accurate and useful information is being gathered, shared and used to benefit adults and children with disability.

Since 2001, a project called ‘Disability in the Pacific’ (initiated by Inclusion International with funding support from NZAID) has been conducting individual surveys to identify adults and children with disabilities in Cook Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Vanuatu.

Local people have been trained to identify types of disabilities and then assisted to conduct individual interviews throughout the country. The local people who volunteer, or are recruited, often include people with disability, parents of children with disability, local teachers and health workers. The training enables them to learn identification and interview skills as well as how to run community awareness workshops. This has raised awareness and the visibility of children and adults with disability. The surveys are also showing some of the real challenges regarding education for all!

In many Pacific countries, children with disabilities have been supported by NGOs who have tended to set up ‘special schools’. Typically, these are in the main urban areas and do not reach those in rural areas or outer islands. However, inclusive education is now being discussed and in some places is beginning to be implemented as the most efficient and effective way of including children with disabilities and other ‘at risk’ children into school life. Inclusive education is mainly understood as a way to include children with disabilities into their local schools. This is still a very important goal as they represent the highest number of children not going to school. However, inclusive education is beginning to be understood to include those children who are ‘at risk’ because of issues such as needing to work, inability to pay the school fee, chronic illness, etc.

As more information is gained and shared about the numbers of children not attending school, some wonderful local initiatives are happening. For example:

  • A student who uses a wheelchair found the path to the local school was too bumpy: he couldn’t get to school. The principal and teachers used their initiative. Now two boys from the school rugby team take turns to carry him and his wheelchair to and from school each day. If the student and his wheelchair don’t show up at school, rugby is called off for that day!
  • In Samoa, all teacher trainees now take a compulsory course in inclusive education. There are another five courses for teachers who want to specialise in working with students with special needs. The survey information is used to identify areas (both location and type of disabilities) where the special needs teachers can be placed once they graduate.
  • Parent groups have been established in Samoa and Kiribati. They meet to support one another and to advocate for educational and other rights for their children. They have been assisting with the survey and community awareness training.
  • In Vanuatu, an inclusive education project is being developed to find out how to make the school experience more meaningful for students with special needs. This information will be used to help teachers in primary schools develop better ways to teach and include all children.
  • A number of children with epilepsy were identified in the Samoan survey as not being allowed to attend school. The teachers were often frightened and did not know what to do when students had seizures. A brochure was developed to help teachers understand and cope with students with epilepsy.
  • In Kiribati, special training courses are being developed for young women with disabilities by Te Toa Matoa, the local disabled people’s group. The tutor for one of the Women with Disability groups is a disabled woman and a wonderful role model.

Rebekah McCullough
Disability in the Pacific – Project Co-ordinator
Inclusion International/New Zealand International Aid and Development Agency (NZAID)
4 Hatherly Lane
Christchurch 8
New Zealand