By Indiana Fonseca y Katharina Pförtner, CBM
CBM partners practicing Community-Based Inclusive Development (CBD) and Inclusive Education, working with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education and representatives from Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs), were invited to present a background paper on education and disability in Nicaragua for the Global Education Monitoring Report 2020 Latin America and the Caribbean- Inclusion and education: All means all. This blog presents a summary of the challenges and recommendations we found.
Maria Nazareth, a girl with Down Syndrome working with her classmates at the elementary school in Juigalpa Nicaragua
The voices of children with disabilities and their families
During focus groups held to draft our background paper for the GEM Report on Nicaragua, children and youth with disabilities, their families and teachers expressed their desire to access, remain and progress in conditions that generate a feeling of well-being in the educational system.
The 2020 GEM report and its fact sheet on disability in Latin America and the Caribbean show that the identity, background, and abilities of students dictate their education opportunities. This was corroborated by a blind student from a regular school in Managua who stated that “disability is generated by the environment, because if I had the equity to which I am entitled in my school, I would develop just like a person without a disability.”
While there are laws and policies that promote inclusion, misperceptions and segregation are still common. For one young student at an inclusive school in Managua, “the law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities exists, but it has not yet guaranteed the right of all persons with disabilities to study”.
Referring to the challenges they face in schools, a blind student from a regular school in Managua stated that “there is legislation for inclusive education in terms of access, but there is no monitoring of the quality of education.” Another significant barrier is the preparation, motivation and attitude of teachers. For the mother of a blind student in Managua, the attitude of the teachers is fundamental to achieving inclusion: “the teacher may know Braille, but if his attitude is negative, he doesn’t practice it and forgets it”.
The GEM Report also emphasizes that inclusion cannot be imposed from above. Communities, parents and students themselves are key actors in achieving inclusion in education as long as they believe that inclusion is possible and beneficial for all. This is corroborated by some of the parents with children with disabilities who were interviewed during the Nicaragua case study: “families should fight so that their daughter or son goes to regular school; they should not give up, they should not leave their child at home. “
These drawings are part of focus group activities with children and adolescents with disabilities reflecting the different barriers related to their experience in education in Nicaragua.
To achieve inclusive education, it is not enough to include persons with disabilities in their community’s regular school. The education system needs to guarantee the necessary conditions of equity with all its implications, so that each student can develop his or her potential. All barriers to participation must be eliminated in schools, health centers, public transportation, buildings, and others, to create equal opportunities for the optimal development of children with disabilities along with their peers.
- Nicaragua has a clear concept of inclusive education in its legislation and policies aiming to eliminate any discrimination (of students with disabilities, ethnic groups, discrimination based on gender or poverty, etc.), and for flexibility of the curriculum based on individual needs, of evaluations and promotions.
- Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America; however, the government allocates more than 50% of the general budget to social programs, e.g., the “AMOR Program,” a national scheme of full coverage on inclusive early education, where ASOPIECAD, supports the development of skills for the inclusion of children with disabilities.
- There is limited data on the attendance of children with disabilities who are enrolled in special schools or included in mainstream education. Nicaragua has managed to increase coverage of early childhood, primary, and secondary education, but without data it is difficult to know the impact on inclusion.
- Having a dual system where children are sent to special or inclusive schools has its own challenges. While the government supports inclusive education, there is no official plan for the transition from special schools to full inclusion. There is no budget allocated to inclusive education, only to special education centers.
- Teacher training is a priority for the Ministry of Education, but there is little monitoring of inclusive education, its implementation, or the impact of training on the quality of education provided in the classroom. Since 2009, Diversity Resource Centers (CREAD) have been providing information, advice, support and teacher training, as well as preparing teaching materials for inclusive education centers.
Although there has been great progress towards achieving inclusive education of people with disabilities in Nicaragua, the following important pillars must be built upon to achieve greater inclusion:
• Better data on the participation of students with disabilities and their needs
• Improved planning for the transition from special education to inclusive education
• Improved monitoring of the impact of policies, regulations and training programs on inclusion in the classroom