Despite almost 20 years of educational reforms in Central Asia, children with special needs continue to face hardships in Central Asia. A new review of regional education policies by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is recommending that governments in the region do more to integrate children with special needs into a mainstream educational environment.
"Neglecting children in need of special education and their families compounds longer term costs for a society, let alone the social costs that result from stigma and isolation," says the study, which was released on September 16. At least 10 percent of students in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan suffer exclusion from educational programs and opportunities due to special needs, the OECD estimates.
The report, which was sponsored by the Open Society Institute's Education Support Program, describes inclusive education as a fundamental component of civil society and political development. This type of education reform is urgently needed in countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where populations are growing rapidly, the report concludes. [Editor's note: EurasiaNet, like the Education Support Program, operates under the Open Society Institute's auspices]. [For additional information click here].
Integrating children with special needs into mainstream classrooms should be viewed as an opportunity, not a chore, said Katherine Lapham, OSI's Senior Program Manager for Education Support and Early Childhood Programs. "Inclusive education is important for society as a whole because it promotes better education outcomes for all children," Lapham said. "Research has demonstrated that all children in inclusive classrooms, both children with and without disabilities or learning difficulties, have better education outcomes than those in segregated settings."
It is cheaper too. According to the report, inclusive education reduces government expenditures on education. "In terms of efficient and effective service delivery systems, those which segregate and discriminate against children in need of special education can increase social service costs through inappropriate institutionalization," adds the report.
The OECD survey is most critical of Tajikistan, where, it notes, education is a low political priority. There is an "urgent need" for action to help children with special needs in Tajikistan despite "the almost complete lack of inclusive and needs-based elements in the current education system and the low priority of this problem area." Authorities depend on segregation and home schooling because of scarce funds and old stereotypes.
The situation looks somewhat better in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, though Kazakhstan - the only signatory of the three to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) - is not living up to its international commitments, according to Peter Evans, an author of the Kazakhstan chapter.
With less than four months until Astana takes the helm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), large numbers of children receive "little if any education or training," he told EurasiaNet. "Kazakhstan has a long way to go in following a human rights agenda, for example, in providing basic provisions to ensure education for all children." A lack of government motivation appears behind the shortcomings, the report concludes.