EFA-VI – A Shared Challenge

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EFA-Vl Global Campaign – A Shared Challenge


(In this article, Larry Campbell, Immediate Past President, ICEVI presents the need for the global campaign, how it was conceptualised, the objectives of the campaign, and implementation procedures)

The current situation of the estimated 6 million children with a disabling visual impairment is disturbing. Eighty percent of these children, or 4.8 million live, in a developing country. On average less than 10% of these children currently have access to education. This means that today there are an estimated 4.4 million preschool and school-aged children who live without access to a basic human right, the right to education. Time and again research has shown the link between poverty and illiteracy. For these 4.4 million children this cycle of poverty and illiteracy is likely to repeat itself unless some dramatic interventions are made immediately.

In 1990, Ministers of Education from throughout the world gathered for a global summit in Jomtien, Thailand. Out of this summit came the UN and World Bank supported Education for All program. The document that emerged from this EFA summit called for universal enrollment in primary education for all the world’s children by the year 2015. EFA has become a household word in the field of development and one of the eight United Nations Millenium Development Goals.

However, from the outset, the needs of children with disabilities were barely acknowledged. Had it not been for the tireless work of Bill Brohier, then President of ICEVI, and Lal Advani, then regional president of the World Blind Union there would have been no reference to persons with disabilities in the final EFA summit document. In the end, there was one fleeting reference to the needs of disabled persons; and since then the term “fleeting reference” aptly describes the situation since 1990.

The Education for All program of UNICEF, UNESCO and The World Bank has had some impressive results for non-disabled children. School enrollment and literacy rates have risen in almost all countries. Today, some 24 countries are part of what is referred to as the Fast Track Initiative (FTI). Countries included in the FTI have agreed that in return for debt relief they will put work intensively in achieving universal primary education enrollment. In these countries large investment in technical and financial support are stimulating accelerated effort toward this objective. So, for non-disabled children the picture is looking brighter.

However, to date, the same cannot be said for children with disabilities. Despite the numerous meetings and declarations that have followed over the past 16 years progress has certainly not matched intent. However, there are, at last some encouraging signs.

In 2004 The World Bank convened a meeting on “disability and development”. At that meeting, then World Bank president James Wolfensjn frankly admitted that the World Bank had come to the table very late in addressing the needs of persons with disabilities within its mainstream development initiatives. He also conceded that with an estimated 600 million disabled persons worldwide, achievement of the UN millennium development goals could not be met unless the needs of persons with disabilities were more effectively addressed. He pledged that The World Bank would from this point on take the issue of disability more seriously, a promise the World Bank seems to be keeping. Over the past two years we have noted that The World Bank is taking this issue more seriously at both the central and country levels.

The recent appointment of a dynamic South African lawyer who is herself disabled as The World Bank’s Advisor on Disability is a step in the right direction and ICEVI and WBU are trying to capitalize on these changes. Recently I had the opportunity to present the ICEVI-WBU global campaign I will describe to you in just a moment to a group of high level officials at The World Bank. One of these officials summarized these changes. He said most governments had moved from a position of ignoring the issue to developing a more “want to” attitude. He explained that the time is now right to help governments with the “how to” of assuring that all children with disabilities enjoy the same basic right to education as do non-disabled children. The ICEVI-WBU Global Campaign on Education for All Children with Visual Impairment is just that type of a “how to” initiative.

The global campaign launched by ICEVI in partnership with the World Blind Union in July of this year evolved over a three-year period beginning in 2003. The campaign grew out of the frustration that many organizations active within ICEVI were experiencing. While there has been some success with pilot programs in a number of developing countries there has been a general failure in scaling up these programs to reach large numbers of children in a sustainable manner.

Often governments have been only marginally involved leaving the bulk of responsibility to non-government organizations as a charitable initiative rather than as a rights based program. It became clear to all involved in this dialog that unless a bold new strategy was devised we were likely to see only small incremental progress in addressing the needs of these “forgotten children”. As ICEVI and WBU and our respective constituencies were grappling with this challenge we were witnessing the results of a very successful global campaign led by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness which was making significant strides in reducing avoidable blindness in the developing world.

This led the ICEVI Executive Committee to wonder whether a similar global initiative in the field of education could be that bold step that was needed to result in significant impact on the current situation of blind and low vision children in the developing world.

Over a three-year period, which included much consultation with our regions and our international partners, the Global Campaign on Education for Children with Visual Impairment emerged. The framework for the global campaign has been shaped by a Global Task Force consisting of representatives of ICEVI, WBU and most of the major international non-government organizations working on matters concerning blindness and low vision.

The global campaign that has emerged is built upon a rights- based foundation, recognizing that every child has a basic human right to education. The campaign addresses three of the UN Millenium Development Goals, namely:

  • Achieving universal primary education
  • Promoting gender equality and empowerment of women
  • Developing a global partnership for development

The campaign’s foundation is constructed on a set of guiding principles that include: First, a demand for education needs to be created as a basic foundation for the campaign.

Second, the campaign will work within the framework of the general and special education system of countries selected for implementation.

Third, girls and boys with visual impairment should be included in the general education system with appropriate support.

Fourth, alternative educational approaches need to be considered for those children with specific needs such as those who are deafblind and multiply disabled and require more highly specialized services.

Of course there is a great temptation to allow any such initiative to become all things to all people thus diluting impact and diminishing results. However, the global task force has made a conscious decision to keep the campaign focused on two major targets:

  • Early identification and intervention of preschool children with visual impairment and
  • formal and non-formal education of all school-aged children and youth with visual impairment, including those with multiple disabilities.

ICEVI and WBU are certainly not naïve enough to assume that achieving our goal of educational equity will be easy. We anticipate a number of challenges in the years ahead that I will review shortly in hopes that we can engage educators and parents like you very actively in this global campaign.

One of the reasons we believe progress has been so limited in expanding educational access to children with visual impairment is attributable to our own failure to conduct basic research on best practice. While there is no shortage of strong personal opinion on which approach is most effective in meeting the needs of children within the context of developing countries; these opinions are rarely backed up with good empirical data.

Consequently we have placed ourselves and the children and families we are suppose to serve in a very vulnerable position. Those that formulate policy, make decisions and allocate resources to a wide variety of competing priorities in developing countries are looking for evidence to support decisions on such resource allocations. While we can speak passionately about the needs and abilities of children with visual impairment we must also be able to back up this rhetoric with data that convinces politicians and planners of the value of investing in education for children with visual impairment. Unless we approach these decision makers armed with data that supports the value and impact of our work we are likely to find ourselves at the back of a long queue of those requesting governmental support and involvement.

For this reason basic research will be an integral component of all initiatives of the global campaign. I am very pleased that Prof. Jill Keeffe, ICEVI’s 1st Vice President is chairing our research task force that will build this body of evidence to support and guide the global campaign. Jill and her committee are already involved with global mapping exercises to help assure that the global campaign takes advantage of existing research findings and develops the right questions that our research efforts will address in the years ahead to support the expansion of this global effort.

While the ICEVI-WBU Global Campaign will focus intensively on the under-resourced regions of the world; educational equity is an issue that involves every region and every country.

As the Global Campaign gets underway this year with a plan that calls for a phasing in intensive work in 14 countries over the next four years and less resource intensive, yet very important work, in many other countries we anticipate at least six additional areas that we will need to focus attention on.

The first three of these areas form a kind of “trinity” with each linked to, and dependent on, the strength of the other. This trinity includes: -a sound situation analysis, -development of active national task forces and -demand creation.

Efforts in any country where the campaign will focus its attention must start with a sound “situation analysis” that provides us with a kind of “snapshot” of the current situation of the general education system and that of children and youth with visual impairment. Unless we gather sound baseline data we will find it difficult to measure the progress we achieve. Without a clearly marked “starting line” we shall never know how far we have run, or how much longer we need to run to reach the finish line.

A sound situation analysis leads us to the second important area, the development of National Task Force consisting of representatives of all major stakeholder groups.

Although the framework of this global campaign has been shaped by a Global Task Force, the key to the success of this campaign rests at the country level. A commitment will be required of both the government and non-government sectors working in collaboration with blind individuals, their organizations and what we hope will be a growing and active movement of parents and their organizations. In some cases a national task force on UN-World Bank Education for All program will already be in place. In these instances we hope to work with and build upon those infrastructures rather than developing unnecessary parallel systems.

The third element in this so called “trinity” is one that might come as a bit of a surprise to some; the need to “create demand” for education for children with visual impairment. Why, you may be asking yourself, do we need to create demand when the problem is so large. After all, don’t 4.4 children with visual impairment with out access to education represent enough of a demand?

Unfortunately, for far to long educators have spent most of their time addressing what I refer to as the “supply side” of the equation. That is to say, we assume that if we train teachers and provide materials the students will suddenly appear. In countries where awareness of the abilities and potential of persons with a disability are widely understood this approach may work. However, in much of the developing world this represents a flawed assumption. It ignores traditional beliefs and prejudices toward persons with a disability that are reflected in the attitudes of parents who assume that education of a child with a visual impairment is not possible or worthwhile.

The global campaign will need to address these misconceptions with advocacy and public education efforts shaped and delivered wherever possible by blind persons themselves and their organizations. Here, our partner, the World Blind Union, has a key role to play.

We need to educate families and demonstrate through positive role models of successful blind individuals that indeed education is not only possible but is highly desirable. As such demand is created we believe the formation of organizations of parents of children with visual impairment can follow. These parent organizations in partnership with local organizations of the blind have the potential to become a powerful political force in achieving change.

The next two areas of concern are ones that will be familiar to most of you here this morning. These are the areas of human resource development and the provision of support services and accessible materials. I think I need not dwell on these other than to say that if we are to achieve our objective of educational equity we will need to focus considerable attention on preparing administrative personnel and regular classroom teachers to accommodate children with a visual impairment. We also need to explore innovative and cost effective ways of making the best possible use of specialist personnel in field of visual impairment to support children in inclusive environments.

In recent years most governments in the developing world have embraced the concept of inclusive education. Sometimes inclusion has been embraced because they believe it is a sound approach and in some instances because of political pressure to do so. In general, however, this movement toward inclusion is a positive development. However, it is also one that has the potential to backfire as can be seen today from recent trends in the Nordic countries.

With government endorsement, moving children into local community schools is reasonably easy to do. Assuring that these same children actually receive an education in those classrooms with teachers who understand their unique learning needs and have the training and the educational materials to make real education possible is the bigger challenge.

We believe this is a challenge that can be managed but without appropriate measures to develop the human resources needed we risk a generation of children who attend school but remain uneducated.

For all too long programs serving children with visual impairment in underserved areas of the world have had to rely on expensive imported materials. Often this means that those materials are in very short supply. We must create a fundamental change in this situation if we are to succeed.

This global campaign envisions “centers of excellence” that will address this challenge by producing these materials at the local or sub-regional level. The production of Braille books, Braille writing frames, abacuses, Braille paper, long canes and other educational materials can and should be done at a local or sub-regional level.

The sixth area that requires attention concerns benchmarks to measure our success. While the research task force will move well beyond the four measures the Global Task Force has identified the following four areas have been identified as benchmarks of progress. These benchmarks have been purposely kept relatively simple and straightforward and include:

  • First, have education enrollment rates of children with visual impairment increased?
  • Second, have dropout rates among children with visual impairment decreased?
  • Third, do children with visual impairment have access to the support services and learning materials they need to allow them to compete on an equal basis with their sighted peers? and
  • Fourth, is the performance of children with visual impairment on par with those of non-visually impaired children?

ICEVI and WBU have recognized from the outset that this global campaign to create educational equity can only succeed if it is a campaign that educators, parents and consumers throughout the world take on as their own.

I would like to conclude my remarks by suggesting some very concrete ways that each of you can become engaged in this global initiative to assure that the basic right to education is one that is guaranteed to all children with visual impairment, no matter where they live in this world.

First, express your personal solidarity with fellow educators, parents and blind individuals by standing up and loudly declaring wherever the opportunity arises that it is totally unacceptable during the first decade of the 21st century that worldwide, over 70% of children with visual impairment are being denied a basic human right..the right to education! The vast majority of these children are in the developing world.

Second, use the collective influence and voice of the organizations that you represent to pressure your governments development assistance agencies to include within all development assistance funding a provision that assures that the needs of persons with disabilities are formally addressed. Over the past twenty years we have seen the positive impact such measures have had on issues such as women’s rights and environmental impact. It is time that the needs of persons with disabilities are formally addressed within all of our government’s development assistance initiatives. A development assistance program that does not include an impact statement addressing how the needs of persons with disabilities will be addressed is a development assistance program that should not receive taxpayer support.

Third become a member of ICEVI and encourage your own school or agency to become an organizational member. As we go about raising the needed resources to implement this global campaign it will be most helpful in approaching corporations and foundations to demonstrate that this initiative has the grassroots support of as many organizations concerned with the needs of blind children and youth as possible.

There is much that needs to be done in the years ahead if we are to assure all children with visual impairment their right to education. This cannot be done by ICEVI and WBU alone. We can only serve as catalysts for this global initiative.

If the needs of the “forgotten children” are to be met it will require a personal commitment from each and every educator, parent and consumer in all regions. Working together we can unlock those schoolhouse doors for the 4.4 million children that are today without access to education.