IS THIS THE ANSWER?
The Special Educations Needs Authority (SENA) bill was read on Friday 9th November in the
Parliament. The creation of this Authority will serve to regulate and control Special Needs
Education and Special Education Needs (SEN) schools in our country while also mounting and
advising on policy guidelines for the said sector.
A laudable initiative one would say. Our children with disabilities have the right to study in appropriate schools which are regulated, monitored and controlled for quality in terms of education being dispensed, the staffs or infrastructure. We have after all ratified the Convention on Rights of Children and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. It is only fair that our government chooses to create the correct polity environment for upholding those rights.
One would almost applaud such initiative if it did not seem so segregative. The problem with
SENA bill starts with the appellation itself. Special Educations Needs Authority, then whatever
happened to Inclusive Education? What was wrong with setting up an Inclusive Education
Authority, Council? Call it what you may. At the core of the CRPD (that, as one might need to
remind our leaders, we have ratified) lies INCLUSION, INCLUSIVE PRACTICES AND
ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION. Yet amongst the whole list of functions that this
Authority would be allocated, there was only one small point made on Inclusive practices. The
need to emphasise the Special Needs and Special Education Needs as opposed to Inclusive
Education almost points to an inability or maybe lack of knowledge about disability itself and
education of children with disabilities. One is tempted to ask – do they have the people with
correct credentials leading this endeavour?
America, for instance, has the Americans with Disabilities Act; the legislation itself says this is
about US, Americans. They have the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and we
are not talking here about Special Education Needs schools but of very Public Institutions; Public
Schools given the mandate of preparing an Individualised Education Plan and supporting the
Child with Disability to achieve their learning/education outcomes. With IDEA, the concept
itself of Special Education Needs Schools becomes obsolete – pre-schools, primary, secondary
schools must provide students with an "… education that emphasizes special education and
related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education,
employment, and independent living." IDEA puts forward the concept of Least Restrictive
Environment, reasonable accommodations, evaluation and parent involvement.
United Kingdom conversely has the Special Education Needs and Disability Act – the main
purpose of which is Mainstream Education for every child with disability. The SEND Act
strongly advocates against Disability discrimination and provides for the setting up a Special
Education Needs and Disability Tribunal to address claims of discrimination. It goes even further by including higher education within its contents. Sure ALL children are not educated in
mainstream schools; the Act clearly states that some children may be going to SEN schools or
otherwise. But the intention of the UK government is clear in its need to promote and foster
inclusion. This is direly missing in our government’s attempt here.
The argument a person could put forward here is that this is just a bill for creation of the
Authority. The authority can always advise creation of such legislation. Then again, the counterargument would be simply Why not create the correct legislative environment supporting Inclusive Education practices instead of wasting the resources in creating of a potentially moneydraining Authority?
The CRPD clearly states:
States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to
realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties
shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning.
How does the SENA address the above statement? In all of the twenty-two functions that are
underlined for the SENA, where is equal opportunity if the focus itself of that authority is
Special education needs? Where is Inclusive Education in the SENA? How will creating the
SPECIAL EDUCATION NEEDS AUTHORITY ever lead to INCLUSION?
Reading through the SENA bill itself, one could ask some questions:
Being given that the Chairperson would be nominated by the PM to look into a very
sensitive issue, what would be the credentials of that person? Is it appropriate to have any
political nominee sitting as chair of this Authority?
What about the qualifications of the Director for administrative affairs of the Authority?
Are we looking at someone with public administration background or is that background
supplemented by some knowledge of the SEN sector?
Rehabilitation is a very important aspect of SEN yet the board members do not include
any representative from Rehabilitation sector, even though representative from Ministry
responsible for Health and Social Security are highlighted. Why has this important
element been neglected?
Registration of teaching and non-teaching staff would be under the Authority. Yet
rehabilitation staff, which is non-teaching staff, would already be registered under Allied
Health Professionals Council so would there be double-registration?
Are we discriminating against teachers of SEN schools and teachers in mainstream
schools by having them being registered under SENA?
The author does agree that there is a need to regulate the SEN sector. There ought to be a body to look into the education of our children – curriculum, staffing, infrastructure, therapy. We ought to be sensitive enough to want inclusion and pragmatic enough to understand the complete inclusion might be utopic. But the solution does not lie in the SENA. So long as we hold a segregative and political attitude to disability and education, we cannot achieve any humane outcome. The emphasis on Special Education Needs and Special Needs can be potentially harmful for the very persons that we are seeking to protect and support with this bill.
The question I believe our PM and the Minister of Education need to ask is how much of
discrimination within the Education sector will this bill and authority give rise to? Are we not
creating discrimination on basis of disability? How is the PM and Minister going to ensure that
we still work towards inclusion of children with disabilities? In the whole SENA bill, there is
only one sentence which talks of inclusion and inclusive practices. How then can we hope that
this Authority would actually emphasise Inclusion as the end-goal of Education?
The Alliance For Inclusive Education is clear on the subject matter:
What inclusion is not
Special schools and colleges just for Disabled children and students. This is called
Separate units in mainstream schools and colleges. This is segregation too.
Disabled children and students in mainstream education, but without enough support
for them to be truly included. This is called integration. Disabled learners are in
mainstream education, but their needs are not met.
We are still in an integrative, if not segregative mode in this country. The SENA bill in this
respect can be potentially compounding the problem with its over-emphasis on Special
Education Needs as opposed to Inclusive Education.
What would be the solution?
The author understands the PM, she truly does. It is much easier to come up with this Authority
bill than it is to revamp, rearrange, overhaul and rehabilitate our current Education system. The
Government has recently found itself under criticism for the way in which the nine-year
schooling policy was implemented. Creating an Inclusive Education Authority or Inclusive
Education Act would require much more resources, planning and training than the current
SENA. Yet the solution to our ailing almost failing Special Education Needs sector actually lies
in Inclusion and Inclusive Education Practices.
The creation of legislation similar to what there is in US would definitely bring in a much-needed breath of fresh air for everyone in the sector. A master stroke would be the creation of a Ministry of Social Integration, Disability and INCLUSION. While it is understood that inclusive education would remain the mandate of the Ministry of Education, the new Ministry would work in collaboration to advise, regulate and control inclusive education practices hence taking the burden of inclusive quality control from an already overburdened Ministry.
The Inclusive Education Act
This author feels the best interests of our children with disabilities lies in the correct legislations
to inform, regulate, and control delivery of inclusive education services. Such laws would
supplement our existing legislative framework for education. Of course a less
ambitious/progressive government can easily aim lower but true inclusion will only ever be
possible in the face of hard-hitting game-changer legislations.
This Act would emphasise the following:
a. Individualised education programmes – tailor-made education plans for children with
b. Meaningful Inclusive Education - the provision of regular or special education and
related aids and services that are designed to meet individual needs of children with
disabilities in the same way as for children without disabilities.
c. Reasonable Accommodation and Least-Restrictive Environments – provision of aids,
assistive devices and modification to school environments. Education being provided in
an inclusive setting as far as possible.
d. Evaluation and Intervention – Children to be evaluated by relevant professionals
(Occupational Therapists/Psychologist/Doctors) and given the appropriate interventions
and therapy to facilitate inclusion
e. Training of teaching and non-teaching staff – teachers to be trained in inclusive pedagogy
and practices. Continuous Professional Development be made compulsory for teachers
engaged in delivery of services for children with disabilities
f. Creation of an Inclusive Education Authority or Council – this could have some of the
functions that the SENA is being mandated to look into, however the vision and goal
would then be inclusion.
The SENA bill can be taken as a stepping stone towards Inclusion. The author’s concern is that
we could potentially remain stuck in a political rut. At the present stage, one cannot possibly
infer on the success or failure of the SENA. However vigilance is needed here so we do not stay trapped on the SENA and fail to move to Inclusion. Inclusion and Inclusive Education for
Children with Disabilities is a long-drawn fight for people working in the Disability sector. We
want recognition for our children, equal rights and equal opportunities for them. We want them
included in the decision-making process. Disability and Inclusion of the people, for the people
and by the people. But is the SENA really the answer?