SEATTLE, Washington — Education Above All (EAA) is a worldwide organization dedicated to ensuring high-quality education to promote socioeconomic advancements for children who have experienced poverty, warfare and catastrophic events. EAA utilizes a broad scope on how to address education issues for marginalized populations. Casting a wide net allows EAA to discover the needs of groups others often overlook. Despite the obstacles these children face, EAA helps children with disabilities in developing countries so they can receive the education they deserve.
Education Barriers for Children With Disabilities
Less than 50 nations have legal protections for people living with a disability. Most developing countries have yet to inscribe laws to shield children with disabilities from unfairness or ensure their rights to an equitable education. Without rules in place, a vicious cycle of poverty ensues, as only one in 10 children with a disability living in extreme poverty receive an education at all.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Sabrina Hervey, a Senior Education Specialist with EAA’s Educate a Child programme, said, “There are severe misconceptions around the causes of disability that can lead to stigmatization and exclusion.” Hervey has been with EAC, one program the EAA helps children with disabilities through, since 2013, and has valuable insight into the limitations children with disabilities face while living in poverty. These societal barriers include families stowing children with disabilities away, and never receiving the assistance they require to become independent.
The problem is that not only do misconceptions about disabilities exist but also infrastructure issues in education systems. A lack of ability to provide accommodations for children with mobility issues and no access to the modified learning materials for children with cognitive difficulties provides further barriers. Unfortunately, according to Hervey, “System-level barriers frequently remain even when a child with disabilities is able to integrate into an inclusive mainstream school with teachers trained in appropriate pedagogical approaches and the infrastructure and learning materials are available to support their needs.”
EAA’s Accomplishments Through the EAC Programme
EAA helps children with disabilities in conjunction with EAC and partner programs. One of these partner programs, Aide et Action International, implemented a plan with the Cambodian Consortium for Out-of-School Children to evaluate and increase accessibility to primary schooling for children not attending primary school. The findings were instrumental in increasing admittance to school for children with disabilities. This success resulted from repairs and remodeling of schools, increasing teacher’s abilities and improving receptiveness to education for children with cognitive impairments.
An inspiring story about a boy Ratha Natra is a success account from EAC and AEAI through the Rabbit School in Cambodia. Natra had hydrocephalus, an overabundance of liquid deep in the brain’s cavities that severely impairs cognitive function. Sadly, Natra’s parents left him at a hospital at a young age. But Natra, through EAC funding, used special education and therapy at the Rabbit School and, within four years, attended a primary school where he was able to learn basic literacy, speech and calculations. Natra ultimately went on to job training and placement. Thanks to EAC and its partners, Natra now lives a normal life.
When The Borgen Project asked about the successes regarding how EAA helps children with disabilities, Hervey noted that “EAC implementing partners have been successful in advocating for inclusive education policies and for inclusive education to be included in sector plans in at least 10 countries in West and East Africa. This includes successfully advocating for the adaptation of examinations to accommodate children with a wide range of impairments.” She is most proud of how EAA helps children with disabilities by changing the stigmas and misconceptions affecting these children in their communities.
EAA’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced COVID-19 as a worldwide pandemic in March 2020 and the EAC programme halted. Outreach for education was an unfortunate victim of COVID-19 and the pandemic will cause setbacks. “Our partners have experience in facing disruptions to their programs and to education,” according to Hervey. “EAC encouraged its implementing partners to apply lessons learned from the past (periods of insecurity, the West Africa Ebola epidemic, other health outbreaks, etc.) and to adapt programming where and when appropriate.”
Despite the difficulties COVID-19 caused, EAA has begun the #BuildBackEducation campaign in conjunction with its partners. It is essentially a command for governments and NGOs to make education a focal point of recovery from the pandemic. Those living in extreme poverty and children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. Through the #BuildBackEducation campaign, a large part will involve how EAA helps children with disabilities avoid marginalization.
How Can Policy Change Help EAA Reach its Goals?
Disabilities and poverty correlate with each other. Those living with disabilities have a higher chance of living in poverty due to barriers in education and society. Limited access to affordable living arrangements, stable jobs and a shortcoming in government policies cause this.
When The Borgen Project asked Hervey what policy changes can help EAA reach its goals, she responded, “Every country will need to put in place the legal frameworks and policies that permit changes to take place from teacher training institutes all the way down to the classroom.” Hervey suggested empowering education, social and health sectors of government to work together to meet the needs of children with disabilities. Assuring special education teachers and social workers to work in schools equipped to handle children with specific disabilities is of utmost importance and inclusiveness in mainstream schools. Hervey also noted, “Ministries of Education need to put in place policies allowing for the adaptation of exams in order to provide equitable testing for children with disabilities.”
EAA’s EAC programme breaks barriers for children with disabilities around the world. Using the EAC’s example, governments worldwide can implement policies to create a more inclusive world where children with disabilities need not be a marginalized population of society.
– Zachary Kunze