left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Rule change to make education inclusive for people with disabilities

Updated: 2013-03-26 22:19
By Liu Ming ( chinadaily.com.cn)

The State Council solicited opinions from individuals and organizations on the revised Regulation on Education for Persons with Disabilities through March 25.

Compared with its predecessor, this revised regulation makes changes to ensure not only equal rights to education for people with disabilities, but also the quality of their education. One of the highlights of the progress is that inclusive education in regular schools for people with disabilities is specified as the primary choice when deciding education placement.

Whether disabled people should attend regular schools or special education schools has long been controversial. Many people take it for granted that children with disabilities should go to special education schools, not only because of discriminatory social attitudes, but also because they believe that special education equates to education in special schools. In fact, special education includes placement in special education schools, special education classes in general schools, and also regular class in general schools.

The principle of making choices should always respect the equal rights to education for children with disabilities and be based on the best interests of the child. The lack of screening and appraisal as well as a dispute-solving mechanism makes it difficult to judge what the best education choice is for children with disabilities and whom parents can turn to when their children with disabilities are refused by general education schools.

Now, though, the regulation stipulates inclusive education as the primary choice, except proof could be provided to say that the child is not suitable for general schools. Moreover, the regulation also calls for setting up a steering committee on education for people with disabilities at the district and county levels, the role of which is to appraise and advise on education placement for people with disabilities, and also to solve disputes between parents and schools.

Inclusive education is about having an education system that recognizes and meets the learning needs of all students, whatever their differences are. Other than ensuring equal rights to education for children with disabilities, the deeper meaning of inclusive education lies in achieving the long-term goal of social inclusion for the disabled community. It's time for the education system to break down the barriers created by separating education in special education schools and education in general education schools.

People who fear that the rapidly growing number of special education schools will grab more children with disabilities can relax: The regulation also renegotiates the role of special education schools. It's expected that special education schools, with their well-trained professionals on special education and equipment, should serve children whose special needs could not be met by general education schools. In addition, special education schools could play a supportive role in inclusive education in general education schools by engaging themselves in training general school teachers, assessing teaching practices, etc.

In fact, special education schools should also reflect how inclusiveness should be integrated into the mission and curriculum. Many special education schools are still places that keep children with disabilities within their walls and are also not open to the communities. The goal of education is to prepare children and young people for their future life. If the education in special education schools is isolating these future citizens more from the mainstream society, the mindset and practice should definitely be changed.

Evidence both domestic and abroad shows that most children with disabilities could attend and retain in general education schools on condition that the education system is well-resourced and equipped. The argument that children with disabilities are suitable for general education schools therefore should be shifted to them if the education system is ready to meet their needs. To implement the revised regulation, there should obviously be an assessment of the education system, including the local education authorities, special education schools, and general education schools. Higher-education institutes that train professionals should be ready to accommodate these changes.

Parents' rights to know what their rights are could also be stipulated as the obligation of local education authorities. In many circumstances, information on services available for families and individuals with disabilities do not reach out to them. Field research found that many parents, especially those in rural areas, do not know that children could go to general education schools, and they don't even know whether there is a special education school nearby.

It normally takes years and many steps to turn the vision of a regulation into reality. Stakeholders are expected to take actions after the revised regulation is officially issued after this round of public comment. Eighteen years have elapsed since the regulation was first issued. Parents and children have been waiting for the regulation to be revised. They can't wait any longer.

The author is inclusive education-project coordinator with the Save the Children China Program.