Government fails to design courses for children with disabilitiesMany schools are running virtual classes for their students, but children with disabilities have been left behind.
While other children her age have already started their virtual classes, Nisha Kunwar, a seventh grader with a hearing deficiency, is uncertain about her studies. She hasn’t been able to attend classes, even virtual ones, ever since her parents brought her home in Beni, Myagdi, from a deaf school in Baglung due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With no prospect of conducting physical classes, the government and school administrations have promoted studying through the means of internet, radio or television. The Centre for Education and Human Resource Development, under the Ministry of Education, has been producing audio and audio-visual contents for school-level students. However, those contents neither have sign language interpretation nor have subtitles, making it difficult for students like Kunwar to learn virtually.
“We know that the radio and television run classes for school children. But that is of no use for my daughter,” Nisha’s mother, Bishnu Kunwar, told the Post over the phone from Beni. “The government is indifferent towards children like her.”
The government runs 22 residential schools across the nation for children with disabilities. The schools have been closed ever since the government in March enforced a nationwide lockdown as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing students to stay home for the last five months.
Kunwar said she is worried about her daughter’s studies because she does not know when the schools will resume or if the government would prepare audio-visual contents with sign language for deaf students. An estimation by the National Federation of the Deaf shows there are around 15,000 children with hearing deficiency in the country.
KP Adhikari, president of the Federation, said they have been demanding the government to produce learning materials targeting the needs of children with disabilities, but to no avail. The organisations advocating for the rights of people with disabilities say there are different forms of disabilities and therefore, their needs are different. The government should design and produce educational material catering to their different needs, they say.
The situation of visually impaired children is no better. Though they can hear the audio or audio-visual content, they lack braille textbooks. Though the braille textbooks have been readied, they haven’t reached the visually impaired children. Around 1,700 students had been studying in 80 schools targeted for such students.
Shishir Khanal, general secretary of the National Association of Blind, said the government hasn’t done anything to address the need of children with disabilities while developing virtual learning materials. Parents of visually impaired students say their children haven’t joined virtual classes, as that hasn't proved beneficial.
Sangita Poudel, a mother of a third grader from Amar Singh School, Pokhara, said her daughter has not been able to take virtual classes. “There are figures, graphs and facts which she cannot see. The audio-visual contents aren’t friendly to my daughter,” she said. She plans to re-engage her daughter in virtual class once she gets her braille textbooks.
According to the 2011 census, 1.94 percent of the total population is living with some form of disabilities while The World Health Organization estimates that Nepal has 60,000 to 180,000 children aged 5 to 14 with disabilities.
The government officials agree that children with disabilities cannot be clubbed with normal children in virtual learning.
“We agree we haven’t been able to prepare dedicated online study materials for children with disabilities. Even our plan to incorporate sign language into audio-visual content hasn’t materialised,” Tanka Prasad Gautam, chief at Inclusive Education Department at the Centre, told the Post. “We are aware that our education should be non-discriminatory.”