Unicef gives inclusive education priority

 Posted on June 26, 2012, Tuesday

by Jane Moh, reporters@theborneopost.com.

OUR PRIDE AND JOY: Children are the country’s future leaders and initiators of the country’s development.

SHIFTING FOCUS: Unicef wants inclusive education to be a priority in the rural areas.

Dr Victor Karunan

SIBU: Realising the importance of early childhood education, United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) is making inclusive education a priority among children with special needs in the rural areas.

According to Unicef Deputy Representative and Senior Social Policy Advisor Malaysia Dr Victor Karunan, this focus had been given in other countries for quite a while; Malaysia started last year.

“Our country’s programme would run from 2011 until 2015. Right now, we are still at the early stage. We have been working at the federal level with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and Social Welfare, talking to them on how Unicef could support,” he said.

Unicef had a global framework and guidance, the United Nations Convention Rights of Disabled People, for the government to address the problem.

Dr Victor was speaking to The Borneo Post recently during his visit here for the 4th National Early Childhood Intervention Conference at Kingwood Hotel.

He said they were working with the ministry, helping them in developing policies on disabled children.

This includes services for special needs children, capacity development for teachers, care-givers and others dealing with special needs children, and in terms of partnership, ways to facilitate for the nation’s government, private sector, non-governmental organisations, and so forth.

Although there was still no programme at the state level, Unicef had started discussion with the National Early Childhood Intervention Conference (NECIC) on what Unicef could help.

He said they were also looking at supporting programmes in Sabah and Sarawak.

According to him, this shift of attention was based on the experiences in India, the Philippines, and Thailand, where they focused on the disabled children, particularly on the poor and vulnerable community.

“We have been using this approach for the last 10 years or so, advocating for inclusive education for disabled children,” he pointed out.

According to him, Unicef has been using the equity approach in their effort towards inclusive education.

Through this approach, Unicef has realised there is a need to focus on the vulnerable and marginalised children, which involves the rural areas in different countries.

He said Unicef was trying to advocate for inclusive education in the mainstream schools in the towns, and particularly in the rural areas due to the problem of access to education for children in general and even more so for the disabled children.

Unlike in the rural areas, he said there are opportunities in towns where families could afford to send their children to school to enjoy better facilities, more services, and so forth.

“But, in the rural areas, and particularly we look at the places such as those in Sarawak, we have mountainous indigenous people.

“For them, access is a big issue. So, Unicef is working towards providing opportunity for these children to go to school,” he said.

To see its fruition, he said it would take some times because it involved a change in the mindset and institution.

Giving Thailand as an example, he said with strong partnership with the government, NGOs, and other religious groups, Unicef had helped to remove the stigma from these children.

“We have that in Malaysia as well. When you have disabled children, you tend to hide the children from the community and therefore, the stigma becomes interiorised within the children.

“That is one area where progress has been made because of more media campaigns. It has really changed the public perception,” he said.

He believed that rural areas in countries such as Thailand and the Philippines faced the same challenges as in Malaysia especially among the different minority groups.

“But they produced good results. We facilitated the exposure for government officials and others to other countries, to see how they’ve done it, so they can learn from each other and this is what we are proposing here for the government of Malaysia.

“It is good to expose what other countries are doing and to learn from that experience,” he said.

As for Sarawak, he said Unicef would conduct a comprehensive study about the situation of children with special needs in the state next year.

He said one of the challenges they faced was insufficient data and information.

He said the study would look at all aspects including health, education, protection, family situation, government programmes for children, NGOs programmes, foundations, and so forth.

“We need to understand who the children are, where do they live, what services they have access to, how many go to schools and how many are not going to schools, and why, and others.

“Unicef never jumps into the programme. That is not our policy,” he said.

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