In its quest for an equal and just society for all since independence, the Namibian government has signed many charters on inclusive education, and has developed a very good policy on it.
Nevertheless, we are still far from realising its full implementation in most of our schools. Not because of government failure alone, but a variety of constraints.
This is due to a number of contributing factors such as infrastructure, culture and norms, lack of information, attitudes, funding, policymaking and lack of training for teachers.
The legislative part has done its mandate by putting policies in place, although there is still a feeling that not enough is being done to follow up on the implementation part.
This is often blamed on the lack of funds, which I personally don’t agree with, since a good chunk of the education budget, aided by NGO funding, goes towards this department every year.
One of the main factors affecting inclusive education globally and in Namibia is ignorance and negative attitudes towards people with disabilities. The stereotype that exists in our societies is that people with disabilities are not “normal”, and that they are not capable of learning like any of us who are considered so- called “normal”.
Another setback that can be attributed to the improper implementation of inclusive education is a lack of or less knowledge, and training on the current policies, paradigms and approaches in this field as they are ever-changing and dynamic.
Some education directorates and schools lack specialised staff to monitor, guide and oversee the processes on the ground as far as proper implementation is concerned. A lack of specialists is not necessarily to be blamed on the ministry, but can also be traced back to societal attitudes and beliefs as most graduates in education seem to neglect inclusive education as a specialisation during the final years of studying, where they are given a number of fields to choose from.
Futhermore, the other factor worth mentioning is the confusion between the Life Skills subject and inclusive education.
In most cases, inclusive education has become limited to a mere subject, which is “Life Skills”, hence inclusive education in itself is supposed to be a holistic umbrella which houses a number of activities, and especially quality assurances on attributes such as infrastructure, community education and awareness, and policy implementation, just to mention a few.
Life Skills is thus just a branch of this broad tree, though crucial in its own right.
This, in turn, has caused the downfall of this field, to the point that it becomes irrelevant in most of our schools, and eventually dies a natural death.
In addition, one of the aims of the Namibian policy on inclusive education is to achieve mainstreaming, where we can have learners living with disabilities in the “normal” government schools’ classrooms, with minimum specialisation classrooms.
This has not worked out in many schools, not because of the teachers’ unwillingness, but because of infrastructural challenges.
We also have to take note that many of the schools which were constructed during the pre-independence years did not have a proper and thorough consideration with regards to this field.
The irony is that it is more disappointing to learn that even some of the schools which were constructed post-1990 face this same challenge.
Therefore, these schools lack specialised equipment and provision for this type of learners. For example, the toilets, corridors and sports fields do not favour or cater for wheelchair-bound learners.
Last but not least, many of our African cultures also play a major role in setting back this field.
This is so because of the beliefs and myths that have existed for centuries. In some cultures, it is often seen as a taboo to have children with disabilities in the normal community activities and set-up.
These potential learners remain hidden and deprived from their constitutional rights as government cannot reach and uproot them from their ordeals.
In conclusion, it is up to us as teachers, specialists, the private sector, parents and all affected stakeholders to hold hands together and work towards the successful implementation of inclusive education. It is possible and attainable.
Reach one, teach one, help one.