Plan International Australia
"The MDGs do not specifically mention disability, but they cannot be achieved without the inclusion of people with disabilities....Through catering to the needs of the most marginalised and excluded children, creative, flexible, and inclusive learning environments are created that will benefit all children."
Noting that over 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school, this paper argues that early childhood care and development (ECCD) is essential to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 - universal primary education. It is based on the premise that "[a] good start for children in the crucial early years (0-8) is fundamental to closing the gaps in equity and a critical precursor to successful transition to primary school, particularly for vulnerable children who are likely to be excluded from education." The paper was presented at the March 2012 Bangkok, Thailand, Conference on Disability-Inclusive MDGs and Aid Effectiveness, which was organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission and Leonard Cheshire Disability.
The paper opens by providing a rationale for inclusive ECCD. Amongst the observations is that combating unequal participation in ECCD programmes by working with parents, communities, and schools is essential for ensuring that children with disabilities do not get excluded from the chance at an education. Barriers are explored, such as stigma and discrimination in the community that may lead families to hide away children with disabilities and attitudes on the part of family, teachers, and other children.
Next, the paper provides Plan International Australia's disability lens on the rights-based framework for ECCD programming and advocacy called "Four Cornerstones to Secure a Strong Foundation for Young Children". The adapted framework includes:
- Start at the beginning: One of the suggestions offered here is to use parenting groups as an entry point for discussion and experience sharing about disability and inclusion. Such groups can also be forums for promoting the rights of children with disabilities, spaces for organising play groups for children with disabilities, and places to seek training and information related to disability.
- Get ready for success: One suggestion is to include children with disabilities in age-appropriate peer groups and activities in the community, while also empowering families and caregivers to, within the home, promote interactions for learning and stimulation.
- Make schools ready for children: One suggestion is to make schools safe and welcoming to children with different types of disabilities by improving accessibility, including considering barriers such as attitudinal, policy, and institutional barriers.
- Include early childhood in policies: One suggestion is to work with disabled people's organisations and parent groups to advocate for disability inclusion in government early childhood and education policies. This is a core strategy under a rights-based approach; people with disabilities can be identified with role models and can support teachers, parents, and children to be inclusive.
As part of Plan's journey towards inclusive ECCD, described in the paper, the organisation is working in partnership with the CBM-Nossal Institute Partnership in Disability and Development to carry out activities such as: developing inclusive ECCD resources; integrating disability, gender, and child protection into ECCD curricula (recognising, for instance, that girls with disabilities have a "double disadvantage"); conducting awareness raising and capacity building; and supporting Plan country offices to include disability in ECCD programmes. The paper concludes with a brief case study of one such Plan country office - Egypt - where a Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programme is pursuing strategies such as mobilising and supporting community efforts to include children with disabilities in kindergartens, mainstream schools, and recreational and social activities.
Leonard Cheshire Disability website, August 2 2012; and email from David Cook to The Communication Initiative on August 12 2012. Image credit: Plan International Australia