In Kyrgyzstan, and throughout much of the former Soviet Union, a child with cerebral palsy, impaired hearing or autism is segregated in a so-called special school, cut off from “normal” children. Under this system, a recent study found, almost half of all children with special needs – nearly 10,000 kids – simply don’t go to school at all, robbing both the children, and society at large, of opportunities to learn and integrate.
About 150 people carrying banners reading “Education for All Children in Kyrgyzstan” and “We are All Different but Equal” rallied in front of the Education Ministry in Bishkek on May 17 to challenge the segregation and ask the ministry to ensure equal education for all. Educating children together is best both for the children, all of them, and society at large, the activists said. Several officials from the ministry mingled with the peaceful crowd.
The rally is part of a series of events to push for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Kyrgyzstan signed last autumn, but has not ratified. Azat Israilov, one of the event’s organizers, said that the event is meant to call attention to specific education provisions in the Convention and raise awareness about the difficulties that children with special needs face accessing education in Kyrgyzstan.
“We want all children to be able to study together like the Convention requires,” said Israilov.
Article 24 of the Convention obligates governments to “ensure an inclusive education system at all levels … enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.” Signing the Convention was an important step, Israilov said, but only ratification by parliament would give it legal weight.
One activist from Issyk Kul Province said perceptions across the country need to change. Many people, she said, view people with disabilities as “beggars without a right to anything as long as they have enough to eat.” The situation for people with disabilities is generally better in towns because there are more services and NGOs to help people defend their rights. In remote rural areas life is much more difficult, she added.
For example, those remote rural areas lack the “special schools.” A 2008 UNICEF study found that over 43 percent of children with special needs in Kyrgyzstan do not attend school at all.
Advocates of inclusive education say that not only do countries with an integrated education system create more just societies, but they save money, too.
“Research and practice in developed countries where inclusive education has been implemented for a long time show that the state ends up saving significant amounts of money on social support and separate education,” the Movement of Youth with Disabilities, an NGO, said in a press release for the event. “Children with special needs who get an education on an equal basis with everyone adapt more successfully in society, find jobs and become taxpayers. Children without disabilities, meanwhile, grow up with no stereotypes and get involved in solving the problems of their peers with disabilities, thus taking on part of the state’s function of providing social support for persons with disabilities.”