Speeding up progress towards inclusive education in Tajikistan
In 2011, the Tajikistan Open Society Institute (OSI) team realised that there was a need to achieve a clearer understanding of inclusive education among government officials, so they set up an advocacy initiative to make this happen. This article outlines the advocacy process and results.
There was already increased awareness of inclusive education, as the Minister of Education and Science had attended a UNESCO International Bureau of Education conference on inclusive education in 2008. There was also government interest in keeping up with neighbouring countries on education reform, and OSI and other partners had promoted inclusive education through successful pilot projects. But there were many misunderstandings and misconceptions about what inclusive education looks like, and what the inclusion of people with disabilities involves in practice. The difficulty of translating inclusion concepts into the Tajik language exacerbated the problem. Key figures in government admitted they did not understand essential concepts underpinning inclusion and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This prevented ratification of the UNCPRD, because there was not enough understanding about what implementation would involve.
There was also a lack of awareness within the government that inclusion of people with disabilities needed collaboration between several ministries in order to be successful. There was a perception that inclusion was a health matter only, and that people with disabilities only needed medical support. Within the Ministry of Education and Science there was a feeling that teachers should be the main actors in inclusive education, but there wasn’t a systematic drive for whole-school development in order to support an inclusive education approach.
This situation led to insufficient and inappropriate budgetary arrangements for inclusive education, and a lack of progress in scaling up pilot initiatives. The Ministry of Finance’s budget formula for supporting children with special educational needs was focused on children in special boarding schools, rather than mainstream schools, and bore no relation to real needs. Provincial level governments were able to provide extra funding for particular schools so they could better support students with disabilities on an ad hoc basis. However, there was very little overall provision for supporting schools to meet the learning and participation needs of such students.
Objective and targets
OSI started working to build a stronger understanding of inclusive education within national government. The objective was to get officials in key ministries working together on the issues around inclusive education, both to foster future collaboration and to build an in-depth understanding of inclusive education in practice.
OSI had a good relationship with the head of the parliamentary education committee. As a result of discussions with OSI, she raised the issue that the law did not support inclusive education, and that legal change was therefore needed. OSI supported the committee to take this issue further, and built the capacity of the deputy head of the education committee to lead on an initiative to strengthen the legal basis for inclusive education. OSI enabled him to attend Index for Inclusion1 training in Turkey, boosting his exposure to good practice. These efforts led to OSI being asked by Parliament to help develop a national concept of inclusive education, as a basis for legal changes. OSI suggested that a cross-ministry working group on inclusive education would be the best way to deliver this.
OSI used its strong relationship with the Ministry of Education and Science, developed through technical support of a range of education policies, to ask the Ministry to set up the working group. The Minister did this because he realised that it was in the Ministry’s interests to pursue collaboration with other ministries, to get better support for bringing the education system up to date. The Minister sent out a formal request for representatives from three other ministries to join the working group. This was crucial in getting other Ministries to allocate staff time to the group.
The ministries chosen were the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, and the Ministry of Finance. These ministries were seen as having the biggest potential impact on the inclusion of people with disabilities. The Ministry of Finance was particularly important, as it set the budgetary instruments to deliver other ministries’ work.
Activities in detail
The working group was tasked with investigating practice around inclusive education. It involved disabled people’s and parents’ organisations as well as Ministry staff. The group met 12-13 times during 2011 and 2012. As well as linking the group up with civil society, OSI supported the group with technical advice and exposure to good practice.
OSI provided a consultant from Belarus to share experience of how inclusive education has been adopted in a similar education system, and arranged for the group to go on study visits to similar countries and to inclusive education pilots within Tajikistan. The study visits were particularly useful in giving members of the group positive exposure to inclusive education in practice. OSI also linked up the working group with the coalition platform for international donors and agencies, encouraging them to share information from other countries which are already implementing inclusive education.
The working group, with the support of an OSI consultant, then produced a draft national concept statement on inclusive education, shaped by their improved knowledge on how inclusive education works in practice. The national inclusive education concept was ratified by Parliament in 2012, and is now shaping legislative reform for education. In 2013 it was used to direct the revision of the early childhood law, and in 2015 the national concept will be used to shape a revision of the basic education law.
During this period the working group was also given exposure to ideas on better budgeting for inclusive education. A Ministry of Finance official involved in budget projections and monitoring was a key member of the working group. Initially he was unconcerned about inclusive education issues, but as his exposure to good practice grew, he became more engaged in disability issues in his local area and worked to promote inclusive education in budget discussions.
At the same time, OSI helped the process of influencing the Ministry of Finance by commissioning a national NGO to produce an additional capitation formula for inclusive education, with an emphasis on mainstream schools. The NGO undertook research to record the actual costs of meeting disabled children’s needs in pilot inclusive schools. The NGO’s report was shared with the working group, and was used by Ministry of Finance officials in helping to develop a better capitation method for children with special educational needs in mainstream schools.
Having seen what inclusive education looks like in practice, and having had information on the real costs of making it work, the 2014 education budget contained a national increase of 5% for inclusive education support for pre-schools and primary schools. In 2015, the increase is expected to be higher. This figure is likely to be further increased at province and district levels, as more support will be provided based on specific needs presented to local budget holders.
Next steps and wider impact
OSI has been working to increase the flow of funds for inclusive education by helping local government to identify funds available for teacher training on inclusive education. In 2015 OSI plans to bring these local finance units together with central level Ministry of Finance staff to improve central Ministry understanding of inclusive education funding needs.
Since the working group took place, OSI has seen representatives from the four ministries become more involved in national forums around inclusion. More coherent messages on disability and inclusion are also apparent in the speeches of the President, which are informed by input from Ministry officials.
This article was compiled from an interview in January 2015 with Nazarkhudo Dastambuev, Open Society Institute’s Director for Tajikistan.
1 The Index for Inclusion is a set of materials to guide schools through a process of inclusive school development. See: www.csie.org.uk/resources/inclusion-index-explained.shtml