Building momentum for inclusive education in Afghanistan
Joseph M. Evans
Lots of organisations run inclusive education workshops for their staff or other stakeholders. The key to success, however, is not to stop there! What happens after the workshops or the training courses is very important. In this article, Joseph describes some of the activities that Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) has been involved in, to promote and develop inclusive education, since an initial workshop in 2013.
An introductory workshop
In October 2013, SCA organised an inclusive education workshop, with facilitators from EENET. It was attended by staff from SCA, the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Norwegian Afghan Committee (NAC). The workshop was a preparatory exercise, for SCA’s shift from being a service-delivery to a development-oriented organisation. It helped to advocate strongly for inclusive education in Afghanistan.
As a first step in developing the workshop, concepts and issues were agreed on through a consultative process between EENET and SCA staff. These discussions continued with participants during the workshop. The main issues covered included: an introduction to inclusive education; global, national and local inclusive education policy; inclusive education in schools and classrooms in terms of reflective practice, observations, identification and assessment; action research; individual education plans; gender; and the availability, adaptability and development of resources.
The workshop helped to identify issues of concern and possible solutions that needed following up. For example, it was recommended by the participants that work needed to be done in generating and documenting case studies to use as evidence of inclusive education practice, for training purposes and future advocacy work. Further training involving UNESCO’s Inclusive Learning Friendly Education toolkit was also recommended. For SCA, a key outcome of the workshop was the recommendation that its inclusive education work needed to shift from being part of the Rehabilitation of Afghans with Disabilities programme to being part of the Education programme, as it is a cross-cutting issue. This subsequently happened in January 2015.
Building momentum for inclusive education
More training and learning from experiences
The workshop was just one activity. SCA’s focus on inclusive education gained momentum in several ways. Provincial and District Education Directors in SCA areas of operation received several training sessions, specifically on the removal of barriers to education for children with disabilities. Parents, teachers and field staff were also trained on how to set up and manage inclusive classrooms. As a result, more children with disabilities had the opportunity to attend Preparatory Education and Rehabilitation Centres (PERCs), in urban areas, and Village Preparatory Education Centres (VPECs) found in smaller rural-urban areas.
In December 2013, SCA convened the first national conference on inclusive education, which was officially opened by the Deputy Minister for Education. The 70 delegates and presenters included parents, teachers, government officers and children with disabilities.
In 2014, SCA led a visit to Bandung, Indonesia, together with two MoE staff. During this study visit we observed various inclusive education settings and spoke to a range of education stakeholders. The trip was useful in showing us how Indonesia aims to remove barriers to education for children with disabilities, and we came away with lots of ideas to think about. The visit inspired the Directorate of Inclusive Education to be set up at the MoE in Afghanistan.
SCA is now working on developing inclusive education training manuals which can be translated into Dari and/or Pashto, to add to the scarce literature base in Afghanistan.
Developing a policy base
Throughout 2014, various stakeholders, including myself/SCA, were involved in writing the Inclusive and Child Friendly Education Policy (I &CFE), which was officially signed by the Minister for Education in December 2014. The I&CFE Policy helped the MoE define what inclusive education means and how it would be implemented across the country. Subsequent coordination meetings at the MoE advocated for the I &CFE policy to be included in the National Education Strategic Plan III.
In 2015, SCA’s Education and Disability programmes worked together more closely. To achieve this, myself as Inclusive Education Adviser, liaised with staff in both programmes to support technical issues. For instance, I helped facilitate inclusive education training for teacher trainers within the Education Programme; and supported staff in the Disability Programme to learn more about using diagnostic audiometers and otoscopes to check ears, how to plot audiograms, and do speech training so that more hearing impaired children could be identified and supported, as a key step to accessing education.
Operations of PERCs and VPECs were standardised to ensure equitable distribution and use of resources. This standardisation aimed to ensure that all children received appropriate home-based education as they prepared for their transition to the preparatory centres. Teachers in the PERCs were also made ready to support the children’s later transition to mainstream schools. Preparing the children and the teachers encouraged more enrolment and reduced dropout rates. Continued support is now also provided for mainstream teachers, by a cadre of staff referred to as Inclusive Education Resource Persons. They support the establishment of inclusive classrooms and the development of teaching and learning materials. In addition, they give specialist advice to teachers about Braille or Sign Language, for example, and are also available to teach the students directly about using these methods of communication. All of the staff mentioned continue to upgrade their knowledge and practice through systematic training offered by Inclusive Education Trainers.
SCA revisited its definition of inclusive education in 2015. We produced a position paper outlining our understanding of inclusive education and our ideas for practice/implementation. Once we had a clearer picture for ourselves, it was easier to attract other practitioners interested in collaborating, as well as ensuring that our staff in the field, Kabul and Sweden were all approaching inclusive education from the same perspective.
In 2016, SCA was invited to attend the Zero Project international conference on Innovative Practices in Inclusive Education, held in Austria. For the first time, SCA appeared as a key partner in developing inclusive education and our efforts to date were recognised.
As a result of the initiatives that started with the EENET workshop, SCA staff are learning new lessons each day and responding to new challenges, together with parents and teachers.