This research is intended to find out the challenges of education for people with disabilities in Myanmar and the factors that undermine the education development opportunity for them in Myanmar. The objectives of this research are to analyze the concept of inclusive education (IE) and its policy framework and implementation in Myanmar, to assess the government’s and stakeholders’ perceptions on inclusive education, to identify problems of accessibility to education faced by PWDs, and to identify an appropriate design of inclusive education for children with disabilities (CWDs). It was designed to cover all types of CWDs in the primary and lower secondary school level in Yangon Division. This research uses qualitative method in order to understand the actual situations or phenomenon. Primary data was gathered from individual and group interviews with the responsible officers of the concerned departments, teachers from formal and special schools, Non-Governmental Organizations, CWDs and their parents in August, 2012. Secondary data collection includes government’s IE policy and the impact of its strategies, and a review of the International norms of IE. The findings of this research exhibit that the IE policy for PWDs does not yield expected results. PWDs only have benefited a little from the policy rhetoric. There are a number of reasons namely societal negative attitudes, trainings for teachers on disability issues, and inaccessible school environment. Particularly, children with intellectual/ seeing/ hearing disability will need individualized and special education designs for which a lot of improvement must be made. This only indicates that the idea of inclusive education, where people with disabilities learn in the same class as other students, might not be appropriate to Myanmar, where the government cannot support with relevant facilities. In particular, the society where economic vulnerability is still prevailing, inclusive education has become only rhetoric. Myanmar will have to seek other alternatives that integrate the role of community, family and civil society organizations in appropriate local resources to increase a broader opportunity for basic education for the excluded people with disabilities.
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Statement of the Problem
Today, more than 600 million people in the world live with some form of disability and more than 400 million of those people live in developing countries (Sen & Wolfensohn, 2004, online). Sen and Wolfensohn (2004) also reported that in the developing world, 10-20% of the world population could be categorized as people with disabilities (PWDs) in some form. Moreover, the World Bank estimates that 20% of the world’s poorest people are disabled, and tend to be regarded as the most disadvantaged people in their communities (UNCRPD, 2008, online). This estimation about the poverty related to disability issue was reported at the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in May, 2008. The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) reported that:
“Despite recent achievements, people with disabilities remain the single largest sector of the least served and most discriminated against in almost all societies in the Asia Pacific region.” (UNESCAP, 2006, online)
In general, most developing countries do not have statistical information on people with disabilities (PWDs). This lack of statistical information is explained partly by the variable classification of the nature and the extent of disabilities in these countries. This variable classification makes the rates of disability in many developing countries appear unbelievably low (Mont, 2005, p. 9). The same condition conditions apply to Myanmar, the focus country of this study. In fact, prior to 2009, no accurate statistics existed on the extent of disabilities in the Myanmar population.
In 2010, the First Myanmar National Disability Survey was conducted by the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) and The Leprosy Mission International (TLMI). The survey showed that in Myanmar 2.32% of the population has at least one form of disability. This prevalence translated to approximately 1,276,000 persons living with disabilities or one person with a disability in every 10 households. Among them, 71.6% of PWDs had mobility difficulties. This group comprised of the largest group in terms of disability classifications. The second largest group as the 10.2% of all PWDs in Myanmar was reported as having sight difficulties. The hearing difficulties group constituted more than 9.1% of the disabled population in the country, and the learning difficulties group constituted 9%. From these benchmark figures, the United Nations estimated that more than three million people are physically impaired in Myanmar.
Figure 1: Type of Disability in Myanmar 2008-09
Sources: DSW and TLMI, First Myanmar National Disability Survey, 2010, p. 14.
Divided by gender, the number of males with disabilities (54.65%) was higher than the number of females with disabilities (45.44%). (DSW, and TLMI, 2010, p. 14) According to the age group, the highest percentage of PWDs was found to be of working age (16-65 years of age) and the second highest percentage of PWDs was found to be of schooling age (5-15 years of age) that translated to approximately 248,948 children who have living with one form of disabilities (DSW and TLMI, 2010, p. 14). In addition, the Disability Prevalence Rate of older people is 19.33% while older people (above 65 years of age) contribute 5.58% of the total population in Myanmar (CSO, 2006, online).
In Myanmar condition, PWDs are one of the marginalized groups with many social issues. The most critical issue that remains to be addressed for PWDs in Myanmar is their ongoing struggle for educational opportunities. Education is central to the well-being of PWDs, but in Myanmar they often face significant obstacles to a full education. While the government of Myanmar subscribes to a policy of Inclusive Education (IE) on the books, in practice, most of the PWDs gain little or no benefit from the IE policy despite the rhetoric due to insufficient resources. PWDs face many barriers to access education mainstreaming system such as ignorance of the community, poverty and remoteness. While some of these barriers are linked to their disability, others are simply the result of social prejudices (Heron, Robert and Murray, 2003, p. 5). Because of these barriers, one third of the PWDs are illiterate in Myanmar (DSW and TLMI, 2010, p. 41). In particular, seeing and hearing disabled people have fewer chances to access basic education. There is a dramatic difference in the educational opportunities provided for disabled and non disabled children around the country. This issue should be considered a critical challenge of PWDs’ rights protection in Myanmar.
According to the estimation of UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics (2008), the literacy rate of Myanmar stands at 91.9% (males: 94.7%, females: 89.2%) and the government allocated budget for education is only about 1.3% of GDP per year (SEAMEO, 2006, online). However, the progress of integrating the education opportunities among PWDs has been more difficult to determine due to their marginalization as well as poor policy implementation and follow up in Myanmar. According to the First Myanmar National Disability Survey of DSW and TLMI, nearly about 22% of PWDs had finished secondary education but did not complete the high school in 2008-09. The rate of PWDs who achieved higher education degrees was extremely rare; only 2.2% of the disabled population in the country was reported to have a university degree or above. In terms of gender, the percentage of females with disabilities who had never attended school was higher than the males with disabilities. Also, regarding age demographics, more than half of the school-aged children with disabilities (CWDs) had never attended school. The lack of proper education for PWDs has led them to exist at a low standard of living. In this condition, as people without a formal education, they have access, if any, only to unskilled jobs and low income (JICA, 2009, p. 21).
Figure 2: Educational Attainment of disabled people in Myanmar
Sources: DSW and TLMI, First Myanmar National Disability Survey, 2010, p. 21.
The study of this research is the primary and lower secondary school-aged CWDs in Myanmar, from five to twelve years of age. These children are the victims of inequity and stigma by long ignored, shunned, and isolated from their community. By the experience in other countries, a proper education for CWDs not only become literate but also become valuable family members and citizens and can achieve a level of satisfaction and independence enjoyed by their non-disabled peers. Educational equally is not just a civil responsibility; it is an investment in human resources that will reward the nation as well as its individual citizens.
There are many international frameworks and agreements that support the educational rights for disabled children. The UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, released in 1948, spells out the universal right to education (see Annex 1). Article 26 states that,
“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” (UDHR, Article 26)
Also, the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) mentions that schools should assist all children with a child-centered pedagogy capable of meeting the child’s needs. Myanmar ratified the CRC in 1991. Following the ratification, the Myanmar Child Law was enacted in 1993 and the National Committee on the Rights of the Child (NCRC) was formed in October 1993. The CRC states that “all states parties need to recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education with a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity” (see Annex 2).
Another international framework that supports educational rights of children with disabilities is “Education for All” (EFA). In 1990, the Jomtien World Conference on “Education for All” set up the framework of EFA as a historic initiative and a global commitment to a new and broader perspective on basic education. The EFA initiative emphasizes greater access, equity and achievement in learning. According to Education for All (EFA) assessment of the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal (1999), most countries adopted the EFA Plan as a long-term education development plan for the years 2000 to 2015. It was based on the framework of the Dakar EFA Goals and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), along with other UN agencies, and a number of international and local NGOs, have been working towards achieving this goal by adding to the efforts at the country level. Yet, unfortunately, many countries could not achieve their targets of Educational Development especially in least developing countries, like Myanmar.
Myanmar formulated the Education for All National Action Plan (EFA-NAP) in 2003. This plan aimed to improve the basic education sector with equal access, good quality and relevance from primary to lower secondary levels for all school-aged children. The EFA-NAP aimed to reduce illiteracy rates of PWDs by implementing the formal and non-formal education system through the concept of IE. IE is an approach seeking to address the participatory learning strategy for all children, and youth who feel vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion (UNESCO, 2008, online).
In another international agreement that is aimed at improved the lives of PWDs, Myanmar also ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The United Nations formally agreed to the CRPD on 13th December, 2006 in order to protect and enhance the rights and opportunities of the world’s estimated 650 million disabled people. Out of the eleven countries in Southeast Asia region, there are six countries; Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand, ratified the CRPD and other four countries signed the Convention. Under this convention, PWDs are afforded equal rights with others, for example, the right to education; the right to employment; the right to cultural life; the right to own and inherit property; and the right to live without discrimination in marriage, childbearing, etc. Myanmar ratified the CRPD on 7th December, 2011. The ratification is meant to ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to human development potential with respect to the rights for all PWDs.
However, Myanmar often remains a rather inhospitable country for PWDs. Myanmar does not have the national policy on the rights of PWDs. From 1993 to 2002, the Central Law Scrutinizing Committee reviewed the disability laws in Myanmar but the special law for PWDs is still being drafting by the time the country ratifies CRPD in 2011. Also, the community supports that provide the accessibility of participation and the efforts of aid effectiveness for PWDs are limited. Moreover, the widely-held traditional Myanmar belief that people are disabled as punishment for bad deeds done in a previous life leaves PWDs neglected, viewed as abnormal and considered inferior. Therefore, most CWDs face discrimination within their communities in terms of social functioning, education, recreational and religious activities. These societal negative attitudes are the main barrier of equal educational access for CWDs.
According to the facts of UNICEF’s stated that approximately 150 million children around the world have a disability and the country report of MOE claimed that nearly about 20,000 students with disabilities were able to attend in formal schools and less than 1,500 had access to an education in special schools in 2007/08 school year that a bit statistics on the extent of the exclusion from education faced by children with disabilities (MOE, 2008, p.1). These facts show that CWDs in Myanmar are disproportionately excluded from basic education that enables them to be more competitive for the wide range of future income-generating opportunities.
The traditional belief about education is that basic education plays a particularly important role and deserves the highest priority for all children. It is the key of human rights such as freedom from subjugation, fear and want and also the effective weapon to fight poverty of all PWDs. Moreover, it increases the productivity, social and political development progress of Myanmar and gives the chance to improve the lives of children with disabilities. Basic education is not only learning how to read, write and calculate, also encompassing the positive sense of formal and non-formal education at any stage of life. Basic education is not a clear-cut concept in most developing countries that restricts as the first stage of formal and special schooling of primary level.
Today’s exclusion children become tomorrow’s marginalized youth. Many CWDs enter adolescence with the basic skills necessary to fully join society that represents a huge barrier to achieving the millennium goal of primary education for all children by 2015. Also, basic education is most often a necessary step to understand the risks and responsibilities of their future lives especially for CWDs. However, Myanmar IE policy implementation processes cannot give fully guarantee for CWDs who are still denied their fundamental right to education.
Education and People with Disabilities in Myanmar
The history of education for PWDs in Myanmar has seen numerous plans made by the government for the benefit of PWDs but has yet to find success in implementation.
After gaining independence in 1948, the government launched the new education system as part of the “Welfare Plans” in 1953. In that plan, the government intended to educate PWDs with significant vocational technologies as rehabilitation services for them (Office of the SUPDT, 1953, p. 7). In addition, the curriculum for the state schools introduced vocational subjects according to local needs rather than a unified qualification system. This system only brought about an academic-vocational divide, an urban-rural divide, and an inequality of opportunity for all children (Thein Lwin, 2000, p. 8).
In 1962, the system of education in Myanmar was reorganized as the basic education system. It had three levels of education amounting to a total of 11 years/ grades: five years of primary level (Grade 1 to 5), four years of secondary (middle) school (Grade 6 to 9) and two years of high school (Grade 10 to 11) (Thein Lwin, 2000, p. 9). In 1974, the government changed the constitution. In that constitution, “Article 152” stated that “every citizen shall have the right to education” and that “basic education would be compulsory” (Thein Lwin, 2000, p. 11). The right to education was theoretically for all; however, it was a different story for PWDs in Myanmar.
Based on a UNICEF report from 2000, at least 40% of Myanmar children never attended school and almost 75% failed to complete primary education before 1990 (Khin Maung Kyi, et al, 2000, p. 146). Although there is no breakdown of statistics for CWDs, based on the current situation in Myanmar, it is safe to assume that the significant majority of CWDs fell into this uneducated category.
The Myanmar government continues, with national plans, to highlight education as important for the nation. The country report of Myanmar Education Development Strategy Focusing on Inclusive Education, 2008, stated that Myanmar traditional belief about education is that education is “a basic human need, also an essential part of the quality of life, and a supporter of social values and an instrument of economic efficiency” (p. 11). In recent times, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has adopted the EFA-NAP plan for reducing the illiteracy rates of PWDs by implementing the regular and special education system.
As explained previously, IE was adopted at the Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs Education and the Dakar World Education Forum (2000). That conference affirmed that all regular schools with IE are the most effective means of combating discrimination, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all. (Salamanca Statement, Article 2) IE system is designed to produce an equitable system of formal and special education.
This research intends to find out “How can Inclusive Education policy meet the challenges of better education opportunities for PWDs in Myanmar and what are the factors that undermine the education development opportunity for PWDs in primary and lower secondary school level?”
Objectives of the Research
In order to satisfy the research questions, the researcher sets four ruling objectives of the field research. The following are the objectives of the research;
To analyze the inclusiveness of education principles, policy framework and implementation
To find out the government’s and stakeholders’ perceptions on inclusive education
To identify problems of accessibility to education faced by CWDs
To identify the most appropriate design of inclusive education
Conceptual Framework of Inclusive Education
Inclusive Education is a concept built upon a rights-based approach. This research framework covers the IE policy framework and rationale through to the implementation stage and also assesses the benefits of the policy implementation for PWDs. For analyzing the IE framework, the researcher based the inquiry on two UNESCO guidelines on IE: The Guidelines for Inclusion: Ensuring Access to Education for All, 2006 and Policy Guidelines for Inclusion in Education, 2009. The Guideline for Inclusion: Ensuring Access to EFA focuses on the changes needed in the school setting with respect to teachers, parents, educational policymakers and curricula. Also the Policy Guidelines for Inclusion in Education provide information and awareness for policymakers, educators, NGOs as a tool of revising and formulating EFA plans. Both of them are based on the actual needs of the formal and special schools, the infrastructures and the strategic plans of IE. According to these two guidelines, key characteristics of IE will be analyzed in this research.
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Equitable access for PWDs means learning achievement and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their education without discrimination. This practice rises above the inclusive understanding of physical location, and incorporates basic values that encourage participation, relationship and interaction in both mainstream and special schools (UNESCO, 2006, p. 15). In this research, the measurement of equitable access means the proportional increasing of student with disabilities that are enrolled in, attending and completing basic education level and compulsory primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities.
Quality of basic education is the primary concern in the assessments of learning outcomes. In attempting to assess learning outputs, there is a risk of simply taking a numeracy of enrollment and literacy skills of PWDs as a measure of the impact of IE. Such measurement must focus on teachers’ education aligned to inclusive approaches in order to monitor the characteristics of students with disabilities, the curriculum, teaching methods, capacity development of CWDs and the determination of continuous learning (UNESCO, 2006, p. 16). These results are interrelated, and dependent on an integrated development to ensure that each student with disabilities is able to participate effectively in society.
In the case of service efficiency, this research can focus on different sector efforts that are designed to strengthen the available services for students with disabilities. If PWDs are to participate to their fullest capacity, it is crucial that services and supports are in place based on individual student needs, the attributes of the school, and the expertise of building professionals. The Policy Guidelines for Inclusion in Education stated that all students with disabilities can attend schools in the least restrictive environment available especially in the regular classroom (UNESCO, 2009, p. 21). In this research, the service efficiency of IE is investigated by the size of the class and resources available in structurally safe classrooms, a pragmatic context and incentives for teachers to pay attention to students with disabilities in mainstream and special schools.
Aid effectiveness for students with disabilities can increase their opportunities of the benefiting the educational services beyond primary and secondary schools. They are based on initial stages of IE strategies and policies which constitute the framework within the aid coordination and harmonization. Students with disabilities need some assistive devices or some aids and equipment to access the general curriculum (UNESCO, 2009, p. 11). In this research, the evaluation of aid effectiveness includes the accessible content and assistive technology such as Braille, large print, audio and video formats of the curriculum, sign language interpreters, and other assistive devices.
The implementation of the IE policy takes into consideration the process through which stakeholder responds for accessing the inclusive education services such as priority setting, policy making, and resource allocations. This research will assess the benefits of the policy implementation for PWDs with GO and I/LNGOs strategies as follows:
Government (GO): Assessing the policy implementation for PWDs statistically by looking at school enrollment data and completion rates and assisting the full potential development of formal and special education. Analyzing the Inclusive Education policy by researching the government’s budget for the program’s that aimed for more accessible on Basic Education in formal and special schools, as well. This is a critical factor in determining the success of the policy implementation.
International or local Non Government Organizations (I/LNGOs) and Disabled People Organizations (DPOs): This research will investigate the I/LNGOs’ and DPOs’ approaches on the context of basic education and implementation strategies for changing the attitudes of the community, setting up the organizational supports, capacity building of teachers, integrating the ability of students with disabilities. The researcher can also analyze the perspective of I/LNGOs and DPOs that work with PWDs on the government’s IE policy.
People with Disabilities: This research tends to find out the benefits and the challenges of the Inclusive Education policy for PWDs and benefits on the implementations of I/LNGOs on the Inclusive Education policy with the major achievements and constraints.
Challenges for PWDs: For the challenges faced by PWDs in obtaining education opportunities and assessing the participation of PWDs in the Inclusive Education policy implementation process, the researcher will use an EFA flagship of The Right to Education for PWDs: Towards Inclusion, 2004.
To identify different alternatives, this study will attempt to analyze the prominent education designs for PWDs used in different countries, namely,
The integrated education design; this educational design is based on in regular classes combining with special education services. It can assert more inclusion for students with disabilities with their non-disabled peers and create more academic effectiveness of for their long learning. However, the insufficient skills of the teachers and classroom setting lead to the regression for students with disabilities in formal schools.
The individualized education design; it is designed with a unique approach to help disabled children individually at the least restrictive environment. In this design, the teachers and service providers improve the student’s learning in an appropriate place by determining the child’s condition and reviewing the child’s current level of performance. It also considers the role of parents and special services of the child needs.
The alternative education design; this design focuses on determining essential learning elements that will help the CWDs as home-schooling. It serves a wide variety of interests, backgrounds and abilities of CWDs. Their parents can choose the curriculum that suits the needs of the children, and give extra time to subjects that need it at home. However, the parents would need to be able and willing to do this, because this education design is only depend on the parents’ enthusiastic, regardless of the needs of the child, and their education level.
The special education design; it addresses the students’ differences and needs by accordance with their disabilities. Special schools provide with the specific curriculum, equipments, and accessible settings for students with disabilities. It can reduce the social stigmas with different instructional strategies such as accommodations, response, and schedule.
Each education design represents the procedure of inclusive education. Strategies of achieving IE by these designs and their gaps will be assessed. From this analysis, the researcher will give recommendations for the most appropriate education design for CWDs in Myanmar at the end of this research.
In reality, most of the PWDs in Myanmar cannot fully benefit from the Inclusive Education policy despite the rhetoric because of the insufficient resources. This is based on the problem of inclusive education policy formulation and implementation for PWDs. There are several barriers to reaching the goal of EFA. The provision of training for teachers of students with disabilities has been limited and many teachers from formal schools feel unprepared to teach students with disabilities. Additionally, the country also struggles with limited facilities, high poverty rates, and resistance to change in terms of the community attitudes towards PWDs. To overcome these challenges, the country needs to improve the quality of special education services and to expand the availability of these services.
In the Myanmar context, an individualized educational design can solve many issues currently faced by students with disabilities since it has a specific target for IE for CWDs. In other contexts it has been known to enhance the effectiveness of student-centered approaches, and aided in the selection of appropriate learning styles for each student. In this design, the teachers can contribute with particular techniques for teaching CWDs that address students’ individual needs. It can reduce some environmental barriers for CWDs and the cost for making new equipment or special schools cost-effective. By means of working with community helpers support directly some cost-saving strategies to assist CWDs. Also, the strong role of parents and teachers can give more inclusion. Supporters of individual education design believe that this design allows for consideration of how disabilities interrupt the student’s learning and development of skills. The best practices of individualized education can help choose the least restrictive placement and able to participate in formal school activities for that student with disabilities. In this way, students with disabilities receive specialized assistance and maintain the freedom to interact with his or her peers.
For a better policy setting, active participation of PWDs in the government’s education policy formulating and implementing processes can bring their issues and the root causes of their problems directly to the government.
This study will be conducted in Yangon Division. Yangon, located in the heart of Lower Myanmar, is an administrative region and the former national capital city of Myanmar. It has 33 townships with nearly six million people and is the largest city in Myanmar. Yangon has the best education facilities for implementing the EFA-NAP, for accessing primary education opportunities, as well as offering quality education for all students. Also, Yangon has a lot of opportunities for children who need special care and attention to access Basic Education in formal and special schools. This is the national commitment of Myanmar for achieving EFA goals. Moreover, some disabled children in Yangon, who have graduated from the primary schools in the special education system, can join the ordinary or formal middle and high schools.
In Myanmar, there are seven special schools for disabled students by cooperating with GO and I/LNGOs, most of them are in Yangon.
For blind children, there are three schools; two schools in Yangon and one school in Sagaing, the upper part of Myanmar. The school in Kyeemyintdaing Township, Yangon and the school in Sagaing are both run by the Department of Social Welfare (DSW), under the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
Also, there are two schools for deaf children from grade one to seven. One is Mary Chapman private school in Yangon and another one government school in Mandalay. After the students from these schools passed grade seven, they can continue their education in normal government schools.
The School for Disabled Children in Mayangone Township in Yangon is operated by the DSW. That school accepts both physically and mentally disabled children from the age of six to eighteen and teaches the standard curriculum up to grade five. In addition, some disabled children who graduated from the primary schools of special education can join the ordinary or formal middle and high schools.
The IE programme was initiated as the Myayadanar, a self-reliant primary school, which was founded in 1993 and now has become as No.25 Basic Education Primary School in Yangon. It is one of the par
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