New Law on Education and inclusion: how it should be - Dilmurad Yusupov
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New Law on Education and inclusion: how it should be

Photo: Republican Center for Social Adaptation of Children

The new Law ‘On Education’ in Uzbekistan is currently under review in the Senate of the Oliy Majlis. Does it comply with the principles of inclusive education?

On May 19, the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis (Parliament) of the Republic of Uzbekistan adopted the new version of the Law ‘On Education’, which introduced the concept of inclusive education for the first time. The Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan, together with experts, analysed the document for its compliance with the principles of inclusive education.

Currently, the law is under review by the Senate of the Oliy Majlis. On June 2, the Senate Committee on Science, Education and Health sent a request to the Association of Disabled People, which unites 26 public organisations of/for disabled people to get proposals to improve the law.

An analysis of the document showed that despite the introduction of inclusive education as one form of education that excludes discrimination against disabled children, the bill does not comply with the principles of inclusion.

What is inclusive education?

Oybek Isakov, chairman of the Association of Disabled People, a member of the expert council of the Senate Committee on Science, Education and Health, notes that it is necessary to begin with the definition of inclusive education, which is not included in the bill. He proposed to include the following definition:

‘Inclusive education means ensuring equal access to education in educational institutions for all students, taking into account the diversity of special educational needs and individual opportunities.’

Illustration by Eldos Fazylbekov. From top left: exclusion – disabled children are excluded from education; top right: segregation – specialised schools and boarding schools for disabled children; bottom left: integration – a separate class for disabled children in a mainstream school; bottom right – disabled children study with other children in a mainstream school.

Article 20 ‘Inclusive Education’ does not include such a definition. It says only about ‘equal treatment of all children, including children with physical or mental impairments, excluding any discrimination in obtaining education.’

This article does not include all categories of disabled children, namely children with learning and sensory (hearing/visual) impairments. The concept used in the article should correspond to the concept of ‘disabled children’ provided in the law ‘On the social protection of disabled people.’

‘The exclusion of children with mental and sensory impairments is most likely based on the fact that separate specialised schools and boarding schools already function for the blind and visually impaired, deaf and hard of hearing. But one should not restrict the right of such children to receive inclusive education,’ said Dilmurad Yusupov, a doctoral researcher at the Institute for Development Studies of the University of Sussex.

Article 20 restricts the right to inclusive education by setting the following condition: ‘inclusive education is organised for children with physical or mental impairments if the necessary conditions are created for them in educational institutions.

In other words, if inclusive conditions are created in an educational institution, only then disabled children can exercise their right to inclusive education. The article does not oblige the educational institution to become accessible and to create reasonable accommodation for disabled children.

Moreover, Article 20 restricts the right to inclusive education, transferring all powers to ‘relevant authorised state bodies in the field of education’ to determine the procedure for organising education in inclusive conditions, at home on an individual basis or in stationary conditions in medical institutions.

Article 9 states that ‘children with physical or mental impairments, as well as children requiring long-term treatment, are educated in state specialised educational institutions, general secondary educational institutions in an inclusive form or individually at home.’ According to the wording of this article, inclusive education is not a priority, but only one of all the forms of education that currently exist.

Galina Nam, a researcher in inclusive education in Uzbekistan, a PhD candidate at the University of Waikato New Zealand, says that education of disabled children at general (mainstream) educational institutions should be a priority, not specialised boarding schools or homeschooling.

‘This does not imply the closure of all state specialised educational institutions overnight, but we should resort to educating children in such institutions and at home in exceptional cases. The final and actual right to choose an educational institution should remain with the children and their parents/legal representatives,’ emphasises Galina Nam.

She notes that in order to guarantee the right of every child to inclusive education, it is also important to carry out the process of deinstitutionalisation of children living and studying in specialised boarding schools. In this regard, the relevant authorities at all levels should develop and implement a systematic approach aimed at the deinstitutionalisation of this group of children. Such an approach should include the planning and implementation of their reintegration into communities and their subsequent transfer to general educational institutions; work to prevent institutionalisation; the creation of support services (psychological, social, financial, recreational and educational) for these children and their families.

‘The new draft law “On Education” is designed in such a way that it seems that lawmakers and implementers will adhere to the foundations of the existing system. In other words, “experts” with their recommendations for parents will influence what form of education children with disabilities should receive. But the experience in the social and cultural context of Uzbekistan suggests that the recommendations of the psychological-medical-pedagogical commissions (PMPC), which have institutional authority, are imperative, rather than being of consultative nature. Consequently, the recommendations of the PMPC on where a child with disabilities should study are unlikely to be called into question by parents. Thus, the law and its articles should be read in light of the social and cultural context of disability discourse in Uzbekistan,’ says Mirjahon Turdiev, PhD researcher at Syracuse University in the United States.

Odilya Atabaeva, a member of the Buyuk Kelajak Expert Council, using the example of the Law ‘On Education’ in Russia, emphasises that students are granted academic rights to choose the institution and the form of education. Moreover, according to the Law, an educational institution must provide conditions for training, taking into account the peculiarities of their psychophysical development and health status, including the receipt of social, pedagogical and psychological assistance, free psychological, medical and pedagogical correction.

‘There is no such restriction anywhere as in the current version of the draft law ‘On Education’ [in Uzbekistan]. If such help is needed, then it should be provided at any educational institution of the student’s choice. If a student with special educational needs appears in a general educational institution, then the school, based on the relevant conclusion of the PMPC, must create all the necessary conditions, whether the school wants it or not, explains Odilya Atabaeva.

It is necessary to create opportunities to exercise rights

According to article 5 of the new edition of the Law, ‘everyone is guaranteed equal rights to receive education regardless of gender, race, nationality, language, religion, social origin, belief, personal and social status’. Galina Nam proposes to include disability in this article, so that regardless of the limitations of health opportunities, everyone has the right to education:

‘Everyone is guaranteed equal rights, opportunities and conditions for barrier-free education, regardless of gender, race, nationality, language, religion, social origin, beliefs, personal and social status, disability, or other circumstances.

The right of disabled children to study in a mainstream school should be legally enshrined. If the child and his parents want to exercise this right, the school must create conditions and opportunities.

‘The bill says that inclusive education is “aimed at equal treatment” – this is a completely incorrect formulation, because inclusion does not mean equal rights, but equal opportunities. Inclusion is not so much about the right but about opportunities. There is a big difference. We all have the same rights, but we have different opportunities. Inclusion is aimed at creating equal opportunities for all,’ says Oybek Isakov.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Uzbekistan signed in 2009 and has not yet ratified, recognises the rights of people with disabilities to education in article 24 and, in order to realise this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities, obliges States parties to provide inclusive education at all levels and lifelong learning.

In order to guarantee the right of every child to inclusive education, the relevant authorities – at all levels – must create the necessary conditions for the education of all children, including disabled children in mainstream educational institutions.

‘Conditions should include, but not limited to the presence of highly qualified teaching staff, an individual student support system in the form of a resource teacher (tutor) and other specialists who provide their psychological and pedagogical support. The conditions mean ensuring the physical accessibility of buildings and premises, educational material and technical equipment, adapting curricula according to individual student development plans, as well as directing the educational system of institutions towards the formation and development of acceptance of all participants in the educational process,’ explains Galina Nam.

‘Due to the lack of a vested right to inclusive education, parents have to exercise their rights using only the article of the Constitution. We persistently prepare the parents with whom we worked for a long time that their children can study in an ordinary school and that they only need to arm themselves with patience and knowledge of their rights. And in the new edition of the Law on Education, on the contrary, they narrowed our rights, narrowed them so that the so-called “authorised bodies” decide for you, and you sit and keep silent,’ says Natalya Plotnikova, chairperson of the Society of Women with Disabilities, ‘Opa-singillar’ of the Qibray district.

Low-quality homeschooling

According to the State Statistics Committee, as of January 1, 2019, 101,316 disabled children under the age of 16 were registered. Of these, 21,153 children attend specialised schools and boarding schools for children with physical and mental impairments, 6,131 – in sanatorium-type boarding schools for children exposed to tuberculosis and bone diseases, and 13,272 receive individual education at home. As can be seen from the diagram below, the main categories of children studying at home are children with the impairments of the musculoskeletal system, with learning disabilities and other forms of impairments.

Usually, a “delinquent” teacher vist children with disabilities to deliver home education. If the principal does not like a teacher, he sends him to teach a child with a disability at home. The last case was when a physical education teacher came and taught geometry, geography, history and more. For teachers, this is a punishment – to teach children with disabilities in remote areas at home,’ Oybek Isakov despairs.

Many children with physical impairments or the so-called impairments of the musculoskeletal system (in Russian deti-oporniki) can study in a mainstream school – their physical condition does not affect their intellectual development. Even if the school building is not adapted, one can equip the entrance with a ramp and organise lessons on the ground floor. The main barrier here is not physical or financial, but attitudinal  – often school principals, teachers and parents of non-disabled children do not want their children to attend school with disabled children.

‘Children with disabilities studying at home are not even given a certificate of the appropriate form. Many subjects taught in ordinary schools cannot be found in their certificates. They are only given a certificate stating that they have been trained at home. This is a violation of children’s rights – with such a certificate, they can neither enter the university nor get a decent job. They put a cross on them,’ says Oybek Isakov.

Galina Nam argues that ‘financing inclusive education should not be a problem. Here the problem is in priorities because about 199 billion soum (19 million US dollars)  as of 2016 is allocated per year for the education of children with disabilities (only for education, not including benefits, etc.). This is a fairly large amount, but most of it goes specifically to support specialised education. The process of institutionalization of children continues. It is necessary to allocate available financial resources for the development of inclusive education.’

The right to lifelong inclusive education

Inclusive education should not only concern children with disabilities but also apply to adults with disabilities of all ages.

‘The bill speaks only about children, and we are talking about the right to lifelong inclusive education – adults must also be included. If I, for example, now want to get additional education in inclusive conditions, this law should apply to me as well,’ – says Oybek Isakov.

Inclusive education should be aimed at ensuring equal access to quality education at all levels of pre-school, primary, secondary, professional, higher, extracurricular and postgraduate education, as well as lifelong learning opportunities taking into account the diversity of their special educational needs and individual opportunities.

For example, after the introduction of a two per cent quota for people with I and II disability group in 2018, the issue of inclusive higher education became acute because of the inaccessibility of educational buildings and university dormitories for students with physical impairments, sign language interpreters for students with hearing impairments, teaching materials in Braille for students with visual impairments and other reasonable accommodations for students with special educational needs.

Oybek Isakov notes that we should think about how to implement the principles of inclusive education in all educational institutions. The Law on Education should oblige to create inclusive conditions. The state should also encourage non-state educational institutions to provide educational opportunities for persons with disabilities. Inclusive education should not only be in state educational institutions but in all – regardless of their form of ownership.

Suggestions for improving the law on education

The Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan and experts in the field of inclusion note that the public discussion of the law ‘On Education’ in the new edition did not take place.

The new draft law was published on the website of the Legislative Chamber on August 29, 2019. However, public organisations of disabled people, disabled children and their parents/guardians were not involved in its discussion. The draft law was not posted on the portal to discuss draft regulatory acts at Regulation.gov.uz.

In order to guarantee the right to inclusive education and create the necessary conditions and opportunities for the realisation of this right by every disabled child and adult, experts suggest including the following in the law:

In article 3 ‘Basic concepts’ it is necessary to include the concept of inclusive education.

Article 9 ‘General secondary and specialised secondary education’ should reflect that the priority of education for disabled children should be studying at mainstream educational institutions. Education of children in state specialised educational institutions, medical institutions or at home should be a matter of last resort in exceptional cases.

Introduce in article 10 ‘Vocational education’ and article 11 ‘Higher education’ obligations regarding the provision of these types of education to disabled people.

Article 20 must exclude conditions restricting the exercise of the right to receive inclusive education. The right to choose the form of education should be with disabled children and their parents/guardians. Inclusive education should extend not only to children but also to all persons, regardless of their age – everyone should have the right and opportunity to receive lifelong inclusive education throughout their lives.

This analysis was carried out at the request of the Committee on Science, Education and Health of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis, which will be sent a complete list of proposals to improve the law ‘On Education’ in the new edition. The Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan hopes that the voices of disabled people, representing 26 public associations of/for disabled people, will be heard and the law will be fully consistent with international principles of inclusive education and the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The original article in Russian was published at Gazeta.uz on 8 June 2020.

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