16 Feb The role of NGOs in developing inclusive education in Uzbekistan
Photo: Madina Pulatova, a disabled girl who managed to study at a mainstream school
On February 8, 2021, the Nationwide Movement “Yuksalish,” together with partners, organised a national festival of Uzbek civil activists “Faol Fuqarolar”, and a public discussion on “The role of the non-government non-commercial organisations in the development of inclusive education” was organised. Deputy Minister of Public Education of Uzbekistan Mr Usman Sharifkhodjaev, Ms Deepa Sankar, Chief of Education at UNICEF Uzbekistan, Ms Vasila Alimova, Director of the Republican Centre for Social Adaptation of Children (NGO RCSAC), Ms Rano Khalilova, Director at the NGO “Hayot” in Samarkand, Ms Galina Nam from the University of Waikato and other local and international experts took part in the event.
On 23 September 2020, the Law ‘On Education’ was amended and for the first time included inclusive education in Article 20:
‘Inclusive education aims to ensure equal access to education in educational institutions for all students, taking into account the diversity of special educational needs and individual opportunities.
Inclusive education is organised for children (persons) with physical, intellectual, sensory or mental impairments in educational organisations.
The procedure for organising inclusive education is determined by the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan.‘
Interestingly, the amended Law mentions inclusive education as one of the forms of education in Article 15 rather than an overarching approach to education in Uzbekistan. Moreover, Article 55 says that those children who need long-term medical treatment study at state specialised educational institutions and the medical-psychological-pedagogical commissions (PMPK) still decide ‘with the consent of parents or other legal representatives’ what form of education should a disabled child receive. Finally, the procedures for organising inclusive education have not been developed yet. It is not clear whether the Cabinet of Ministers will involve children, parents and disability NGOs in this process.
On October 13, 2020, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree ‘On measures for further improvement of the system of education and upbringing of children with special educational needs’ which approved the concept of development of inclusive education in the public education system of Uzbekistan in 2020 – 2025. There are in total 86 specialised schools and boarding schools where 21.2 thousand disabled children study. 6.1 thousand children (with tuberculosis and bone diseases) go to 21 boarding schools of the sanatorium type. Moreover, 13.3 thousand children ‘in need of long-term treatment’ are taught at home on an individual basis.
Ms Alimova mentioned that in 2014 – 2016, the European Union in partnership with the RCSAC implemented the project “Inclusive education for children with special needs in Uzbekistan”. This project created 5 pilot resource centres and worked with 15 pilot schools in Tashkent, Samarkand, Namangan, Khorezm and Surkhandarya regions, where more than 150 employees of PMPK and over 1,300 teachers were trained in inclusive education services. More than 2,000 children with mild impairments and their parents benefited from the project, and about 800 disabled children started going to mainstream schools. Several normative legal acts were adopted to develop an inclusive education system, including the order of the Minister of Public Education from 2015, which approved the procedures of transfer of children with mild impairments from specialised schools to inclusive schools.
Mr Sharifkhodjaev mentioned that currently, 19% of mainstream public schools in Uzbekistan are inclusive and acknowledged that there is still a lot to do in the field. He expressed the readiness of the Ministry of Public Education to cooperate with NGOs and stressed that good relationships have been established with UNICEF Uzbekistan, Zamin Foundation, the Center for Disabled Youth and Children under the Youth Union of Uzbekistan, the Central Boards of Society of the Blind and the Deaf of Uzbekistan, the Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan, etc.
Ms Sankar also made a great presentation on the context and problems of inclusive education in Uzbekistan, including current trends in civil society engagement in the education sector and what needs to be done to enhance CSO’s role in developing inclusive education. She mentioned that due to the past legacy, Uzbekistan’s approach to the education of disabled children is rooted in ‘defectology’, a medicalised approach and ‘institutional care as the best solution’. As a consequence, there is a lack of community-based services to support disabled children.
UN Situation Analysis on Disabled Children and Adults in Uzbekistan (2019) showed numerous institutional, attitudinal and environmental barriers and a lack of reasonable accommodation for disabled children to study at mainstream schools. Uzbekistan still has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, although it signed it in 2009. CRPD frames inclusive education as a human right of any disabled child or adult. Importantly, the Dakar Framework for Action (2000) Rights to Education for All requires in Strategy 3 to ‘ensure engagement and participation of civil society in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of educational development strategies.’
However, according to my personal observations, Uzbek NGOs and CSOs are not really included in the process by the Ministry of Public Education. There is no formal registered organisation of parents of disabled children which could advocate for their rights to inclusive education. Despite our joint advocacy efforts with disabled people’s organisations, I personally feel that we are not being listened to by the officials. For instance, we wrote several critical articles on how the amended law ‘On Education’ should have been, the differences between ‘integrated’ and ‘inclusive education’, the barriers children with learning disabilities face, etc. But until now, we have not received any feedback from the Ministry of Public Education.
Director of RCSAC Vasila Alimova provided the results of the recent survey they conducted among teachers and students (N = more than 10,000) of higher educational institutions under the support of the Ministry of Innovative Development of Uzbekistan.
The survey results show that only 25% of respondents are fully aware of inclusive education, 15% are partially aware and more than 60% do not know anything about it. If staff and students at universities are not really aware of inclusive education what can be said about an average Uzbek citizen?!
Galina Nam, PhD, Lecturer on inclusive education at Department of Education, the University of Waikato in New Zealand, made a presentation on ‘Strengthening the role of NGOs: building partnerships to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools’ based on her doctoral research project in Uzbekistan. Based on the survey results of 11 disability & inclusion NGOs in Uzbekistan, she pointed out that there are barriers and problems related to NGOs’ legitimacy. For instance, there are difficulties with the registration of NGOs, lack of communication and partnership between the civil society and state bodies as the latter do not really recognise independent NGOs as equal partners in developing inclusive education in Uzbekistan.
At the end of the conference, I asked why the Ministry of Public Education is not listening to the voices of parents of disabled children and why the Ministry has not provided any feedback to local disability NGOs’ advocacy efforts. Mr Sharifkhodjaev then invited me personally to become a member of the Public Council created under the Ministry. And I said that we would propose our own candidate after discussing this issue in our informal civil forum ‘Inclusive Uzbekistan’. Almost two weeks have passed since the event. Still, we have received neither contacts nor instructions on how our candidate can become a Public Council member…