Children with disabilities still struggle to access mainstream schools: experts

By Leng Shumei Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/6 18:23:40

The attendees of the China Disability and Sustainable Development Forum pose for a photo in Beijing on June 30. Photo: Leng Shumei/GT

A disability forum held in Beijing last week said that while the country has made steps forward, it still has a long way to go before it can boast "inclusive education" nationwide for students with disabilities, given their low enrollment rate in mainstream schools.

Inclusive education advocates an education system in which students with disabilities study in the same institutions as their non-disabled peers rather than in isolated special schools, which requires the provision of special education and related services. The system has been promoted in the US, Canada and Japan.

The forum, affiliated with the China Disability and Sustainable Development (CDSD) Forum, was held on June 30 as the conclusion of a UN project jointly launched in China by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and a variety of UN organizations since 2014 to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, including their rights to education, employment, and social participation.

"China is home to an estimated 85 million people with disabilities - a human resource base comparable to the population of Germany," Tim de Meyer, Director of the ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia, said at the opening ceremony for the forum, adding that the Chinese government announced its strong commitment to improving the opportunities open to persons living with disabilities in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020).

However, a sub-forum on education later noted the problems still present in this area, citing a recent report which revealed that among the 346 disabled students interviewed who have ever entered mainstream schools, 27 percent have been expelled.

Long road ahead

Just 70 percent of children with disabilities in China have access to compulsory education, while nearly 100 percent of non-disabled students are able to receive it, the People's Daily reported.

According to the China Disabled Persons' Federation, 239,600 students with disabilities in China were studying in mainstream primary and middle schools by the end of 2015, which are covered by the education system, accounting for more than 54 percent of students with disabilities currently attending school, compared to 95 percent in the US.

In addition, the quality of education available to students with disabilities is generally low due to a lack of teacher training.

Zhou Peiyi, secretary-general of the NGO Inclusive China, which is made up of the parents of children with disabilities, pointed out at the education sub-forum that more than 60 percent of mainstream schools' teachers have never received any kind of special education training, and the situation is particularly worrisome in less-developed cities.

"Lacking related knowledge, three fourths of the teachers expressed negative attitudes toward educating students with disabilities," Zhou said.

However, Zhou noted that two thirds of parents of disabled students have high hopes for inclusive education, hoping that this could help their children integrate into society.

"Experience tells us that many parents of children with disabilities prefer sending their children to special schools, which they think are more friendly to their children, where they think their children will not get hurt. But an essential problem here is a lack of a support system for inclusive education," Zhou said.

Deserve respect

A revised Regulation on Education for Persons with Disabilities took effect in China on May 1 in order to promote educational integration, which gives priority to mainstream education for children with disabilities.

According to the regulation, local governments should give priority to inclusive education, arranging for students with disabilities to enter mainstream schools that can provide essential services and facilities.

The new version includes the country's experience in the past two decades of education for persons with disabilities and adds penalties for violators, said Xu Jiacheng, an expert at the Special Education College of the Beijing Union University.

"Education is the basis on which persons with disabilities integrate with society," Zhou said, adding that persons with disabilities will always find it hard to live ordinary lives if society does not become more inclusive.

Cai Cong, a visually-impaired activist told the China News Service that "The core of inclusive education is not to keep persons with disabilities apart from mainstream society."

Cai's local education authorities and exam institute rejected his request that he be allowed to take the national college entrance examination in 2004, saying "there was no precedent."

"Good education should teach students to understand the diversity of life and to respect the individuality, happiness and success of every person," Cai said, noting that outmoded ideas about disabilities should change.

Cai in January said while on online entertainment show Who Can Whoup that people with disabilities deserve respect, not sympathy. "They are just experiencing a different life, they are not ruined," Cai said.

Newspaper headline: Impaired education

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