Disabled students of a Baglung school face uncertain future after grade 8Many students of Ramrekha Basic School in Baglung may have to discontinue education after passing grade 8 because there are no other disabled-friendly schools nearby.
When 14-year-old Susma Ruchal’s parents gave up on her because of her disability, her grandmother, Padma Ruchal took her in. Susma was born with underdeveloped extremities and does not have movement from her waist down.
A resident of ward 17 of Pokhara Metropolitan City, Kaski, Susma is dependent on help for mobility. Given her limitations, her parents never sent her to school but since she was inclined towards getting an education, her grandmother enrolled her in a local school at the age of seven.
Padma went through a lot of trouble to find a disabled-friendly school for her granddaughter—one that would also provide boarding facilities so that daily commutes would not be a barrier for Susma.
“Seven years ago, there were no disabled-friendly public schools with the necessary infrastructure,” said Padma. “There were some private schools which catered to the disabled but I could not afford to send Susma to such schools.”
After much searching, Padma came to know about Ramrekha Basic School in ward 1 of Baglung Municipality, Baglung. The school provides free education and has a hostel for children with disabilities.
“I enrolled Susma in grade 1 when she was seven years old. I was worried about her learning abilities but she did well in school,” said Padma. “Leaving her behind at the hostel was difficult, but it was the right thing to do for her.”
Susma is currently in grade 6 and her grandmother is once again worried about her future since Ramrekha Basic School runs classes only till grade 8.
“I don’t know what to do after she completes grade 8,” said Padma. “None of the secondary schools in the area have boarding facilities for the disabled.”
According to Kabiraj GC, principal of Ramrekha Basic School, seven and a half years ago, Plan International, an international non-governmental organisation, built the hostel for the school so disabled children could study and thrive in a comfortable environment. Baglung Municipality arranged for two nannies to help the disabled children and provides Rs40,000 to the school every 10 months to meet the basic needs of the disabled children.
Some donor agencies, such as the Dhaulagiri Integrated Rural Development Centre, also helped to build other necessary infrastructure, such as wheelchair ramps from the hostel to the school building and upgrades for the bathrooms.
Out of the total 117 students in the school, 57 are disabled.
“Among the disabled students, 13 with serious disabilities or those from out of station live in the hostel,” said GC. “Apart from the disabled students, the majority of the other children are from working-class families whose parents are daily wage workers,” GC added.
Ramesh Gotame, a teacher at Ramrekha Basic School, said that all the children with disabilities show great interest in studying and are good students. Apart from the curriculum, they also participate in extracurricular and co-curricular activities such as singing, painting, and debates.
For the disabled students of grade 8, the future is uncertain, says Gotame.
“The disabled children studying in grade 8 are worried about the possibility of having to leave the school because it is the only disabled-friendly school in the district,” said Gotame.
Jiban Bahadur Chhetri, a grade 8 student at the school and resident of Darling in ward 9 of Badigad Rural Municipality, a remote place in the district, also lives in the hostel. He is worried about leaving the hostel and his friends after passing grade 8.
Chhetri lost his left leg four years ago in the course of his cancer treatment.
“I cannot stand or move for long on my own on my prosthetic leg, and there is no school or hostel near my village,” said Chhetri. “My family cannot afford to send me elsewhere. I am in a dilemma about how I am going to continue my studies after leaving this school.”
Principal GC said bidding farewell to grade 8 students without concrete plans for their future is disheartening. “But the school does not meet the criteria for upgrading to a secondary school so we have no option but to let the students go after grade 8,” he said. “We have requested Baglung Municipality to allow the disabled children to stay in the hostel after passing grade 8 while they continue their secondary level in another school. We have also asked them to support us in providing transportation for the disabled children so that their education won’t be hampered.”
Dhan Prasad Pokhrel, education officer of Baglung Municipality, said that the municipality is looking at various options and planning to make arrangements for the school to support the disabled children.
“We are working on several plans to help the disabled children of the basic school in the long run. Discussions are also going on in the municipal office to find donors to support the disabled children of the basic school,” said Pokhrel. “Soon a decision will be made by the municipal office on how to help the children continue their studies in a disabled-friendly environment, even if it requires introducing new policies in the education policy of the municipality.”