The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which former interim President Roza Otunbayeva signed over a year ago, is awaiting ratification by the Kyrgyz parliament. The delay is hindering the vast majority of children with special needs in Kyrgyzstan from gaining increased access to educational opportunities.
Part of the problem of educational access in Kyrgyzstan is connected to a belief – even among some parents of disabled children – that children with special needs should attend a “special” school, or not attend at all.
Thirteen-year-old Sergei Ryzhkov has epilepsy. He doesn’t go to school, and spends most of his time playing on his computer. He enjoys listening to music and watching television. He cannot read or write. His mother says she is too terrified to send him to school. “I believe it is wrong to send children with special needs to our schools,” said Sergei’s mother, Olga Ryzhkova.
“There are no conditions at schools for children with disabilities. Children in our society are cruel, and sometimes they mistreat disabled children,” said the 43-year-old Ryzhkova, who is herself a high school teacher in Osh. “My son is like an angel. He cannot harm anybody. But I don’t want him to come home from school in an ambulance.”
Such attitudes demonstrate just how far proponents of inclusive education, a concept in which disabled students are integrated into regular classrooms, have to go.
“Only about 25 percent of children with special needs go to school,” says Mirbek Asangariev, head of the Movement of Young People with Disabilities, a non-governmental organization in Osh. “Some go to specialized schools, but the majority of such children do not go to school at all.”
Asangariev believes that ratification of the Convention would help integrate all children into the same classrooms, given that the pact expressly calls for an inclusive educational approach. Advocates point out that all children benefit when kids with special needs are in the same classroom. The idea is that inclusion helps children be accepting from a young age of people who are different, making everyone more open-minded as adults. It also helps disabled children by ensuring they get the education and human interaction they deserve.
“Ratification of the Convention has been delayed because some officials do not want to take responsibility,” Asangariev said. “It would take work to show concrete results. Implementation of the Convention would require competence, as well as an understanding and ability to implement [change].”
Kyrgyzstan introduced inclusive education in 2000. According to Education Ministry statistics, over 5,700 schoolchildren with disabilities currently attend regular schools. But there are about 25,000 children with special needs in Kyrgyzstan, according to the Ministry of Social Protection.
Some of these special-needs children have access to special schools. Asangariev, who prefers inclusive education, concedes that special schools are better than nothing. Yet, these special schools offer instruction to only 2,490 children with mental or physical handicaps. That means roughly 16,800 children are not in school simply because they are disabled.
Even for those attending inclusive schools, there remains a long way to go. “The inclusive education we have here is not, in fact, inclusive education,” argued Larisa Kuznetsova, the executive director of Smile-KG, an NGO in Osh that lobbies on behalf of disabled children.
Kuznetsova said that not a single school in Kyrgyzstan has wheelchair ramp access, besides the 15 so-called “special schools.” But the problem is not just about physical infrastructure. “An inclusive education means not only proper facilities, but also specialized curricula and lack of stigma. Moreover, there are parents who openly say they do not want children with disabilities attending schools where their children study,” Kuznetsova said. She added that “certain teachers are not happy to have such children in their classes.”
The Kyrgyz parliament is expected to start wrestling with ratification soon. MP Roza Aknazarova, a member of the parliamentary committee that deals with education issues told EurasiaNet.org that in June the government ordered the formation of a new committee to develop a plan on the ratification process. That committee’s proposal is due on November 1.
Parliament so far has failed to ratify the Convention because deputies “have certain incorrect ideas about it,” said Seinep Dyikanbaeva, a Bishkek-based lawyer with the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities, a lobbying group. “They [deputies] believe that the Convention will force them to immediately create ideal conditions for people with disabilities. But the Convention requires gradual changes.”
“Most of all, the Convention prohibits discrimination of persons with disabilities,” Dyikanbaeva added. “Today, every disabled person in Kyrgyzstan faces discrimination.”