By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU- The Lesotho National Federation for Organizations of the Disabled (LNFOD) has reiterated its advocacy for the effective implementation of Lesotho’s inclusive education policy.

The Informative Newspaper learned during the recent meeting LNFOD had with the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) along with other stakeholders in Maseru.

MoET had in 2018 adopted the Inclusive Education Policy but had not fully implemented it; prompting this umbrella body for organizations dealing with disability in the country to call for it to be fast-tracked.

According to LNFOD, Inclusive education: is education that accommodates all learners with special education needs and it differs from special education in that it does not segregate the learners, instead, it accommodates all learners in one environment while addressing all their needs equally.

One of the concerns that LNFOD has with the MoET is that “The Special Education Unit was established in 1991 with not more than 12 officers serving the entire country and thirty-two years later, the unit still operates with this limited number of officers. The unit is among others mandated to promote integration of learners with disabilities into the regular school system at all levels and to provide budgetary support for special education initiatives intended to improve the education received by learners with special needs.”

LNFOD Executive Director Advocate Nkhasi Sefuthi said inclusive education is about transformation.

“It cannot be business as usual,” he stressed.

While he conceded that there have been some implementations on the part of the Ministry. However, he pointed out that more still needs to be done if the country is to have a fully-fledged rolled-out policy of inclusive education in all schools.

The Executive Director advocated for annual training for the teachers without special education training. He added that at one point, some students with special educational needs were “rejected” by the teachers. A move he labeled as discriminatory.

Advocate Sefuthi told the Ministry that as much as the School Supply Unit procures educational material for regular students, it does not procure learning aid devices for learners with special education needs.

He said learners with disabilities are also not provided with any accreditation upon completion of their studies, the accreditation which he said is important for the market and for the potential employer to see the capabilities of a person with a disability.

According to LNFOD, of about 4,000 schools that Lesotho has, less than 20 of them are inclusive or special needs schools. It further says, in 2016, there were about 18, 282 learners with special education needs that were enrolled in primary schools, and the most common type of disability was identified as intellectual disability followed by visual impairment and hearing impairment respectively.

In the same year, due to a high dropout rate, the number of disabled students enrolled at the secondary level was at a very low 7, 395.

The MoET Deputy Principal Secretary (DPS) Ratšiu Majara said inclusive education means that every child should be in school and the schools should be able to avail necessary resources for their seamless learning.

The DPS said they have a special budget allocation for learners with disabilities.

Majara said some of the efforts they carried out include ensuring that school buildings are accessible to all students; buildings are constructed to accommodate learners with disabilities as well as the playgrounds and ablution facilities.

LNFOD continues, “Persistent gaps such as stigma and social exclusion, financial constraints for implementation of an existing framework, inadequate capacity of the social education unit to monitor implementation of inclusive education and inadequate training of teachers continue to persist”.

Responding to the concerns about the lack of budgetary support for inclusive education, the DPS said the resources are spread based on the need for expertise.

He further told LNFOD that they have prioritized the teachers with special education training.

From the Inspection Unit in the MoET, Lejone Moroleng said they scrutinize the enrollment rate of learners with disabilities.

In their inspections at the schools, he said they ensure that there is nothing that would disadvantage the learners from continuing with their education. Moroleng said that all learners realize their right to study regardless of their religious beliefs and disabilities, and those who have undergone the initiation process to transition into adulthood as per the cultural practices of Basotho.

The schools’ inspector showed that even advanced countries, citing Japan as an example, are “struggling” to fully implement the Inclusive Education Policy wherein he said in that country, students with disabilities are taken to designated schools whereas in Lesotho they study along with other students.

“With us, we have means but lack resources. We don’t want to leave anyone behind,” he said.

LNFOD also told the MoET that it needs to reflect and show formal adoption of inclusive education by urgently changing the official use of the “special education unit” to an inclusive education department in line with the Inclusive Education Policy of 2018.

“We have to be very systematic with inclusive education,” said Advocate Sefuthi.